Too many years ago for me to recall, as a callow twenty-one year old youth, I made my first overseas trip from New Zealand. This was during my first bout of enthusiasm for the wargaming hobby (my present involvement in the hobby was rekindled in my 40s), so I made a point of visiting some of the European shangri-la’s of miniature soldiers.
One of the most impressive of these was the Plassenburg Castle. This medieval fortress, nestled picturesquely above the beautiful Bavarian town of Kulmbach, houses a museum containing literally hundreds of thousands of flat tin soldiers, or “zinnfiguren” as they are known in Germany.
I couldn’t resist buying a few flat miniatures to keep as souvenirs. When I got back home to New Zealand, I painted the figures and arranged them onto bases. Since then these dioramas have accompanied me through the various flats and houses I’ve lived in, surviving my abandonment of the wargaming interest for twenty years, until my return to the hobby four years ago.
Over that period, they have survived remarkably well, considering their fragility. One halberd has snapped off, and the varnish has yellowed somewhat. But otherwise they are all still as good as new.
I’m afraid I can’t tell you too much about the painting techniques I used, as I’ve forgotten, it was so long ago. I’m not even sure if they were done in enamels or acrylics!
Here then, for your enjoyment and edification, are pictures of the flats in my small collection.
The first diorama, containing figures made by Maier, depicts a laboratory in the Plassenburg in 1677. The alchemist Krohnemann is showing Margrave Christian Ernst something that might just be gold (but probably isn’t!). There is also another gentleman and his lady friend, a priest, and an assistant. Even the table and stove are completely flat. As I recall, I made the bricks for the base out of Das modelling clay. The rather ugly title was made with Letraset (remember, we didn’t have PCs with printers back then!).
The next diorama depicts the great German writer Friedrich Schiller reading from his drama “Die Räuber” to his friends. He attended the Duke of Wurttemberg’s military academy, the Karlsschule, and was forced by the domineering duke to study medicine. After graduating in 1780 he became an army surgeon, attached to a military life he abhorred. He wrote “Die Räuber” in 1781, so perhaps this group of friends are fellow officers from the Wurttemberg army. The tree (also flat) came with this set, but I made the stone fence and the terrain from Das modelling clay. The ground has been covered with static grass.
The final group shows a princely travelling carriage, circa 1560. The carriage is accompanied by a horseman and two halberdiers. At one stage I did know who was in the carriage, but unfortunately I have long since lost those details. If I remember correctly, it was a wedding ceremony of one of the Kulmbach nobles. I never got round to basing this group (which probably accounts for the fact that this is the only group that has incurred some damage over the years – one of the halberdiers now has a broken weapon).
So, there we are, that is my small collection of flat figures. They certainly have a charm of their own. The animation and anatomy are perfect – the makers were true artists. Of course, they are of no use whatsoever for wargaming, but they certainly look nice in my study!
This article first appeared on the now-defunct Kapiti Fusiliers website on 10 September 2003. The story still holds true today thirteen years later, though I did have a wee accident and dropped the top base, so it needs some touching up.