Tag Archives: Germany

Childhood Memories Built of Legos

As Christmas approaches, it stirs memories of one of my favorite childhood toys: Legos.

I was an avid collector of the tiny bricks that snapped together but Legos in the 1970s were a lot different.

Back then, they did not have as many little figurines and cool components as they do today.

The sets were much more simple and largely consisted of the little plastic rectangles and a set of instructions.

If the kit was really high-end, it might have some moving parts, like wheels, and maybe a sticker!


The weeks before Christmas were a time of high anticipation for me, and not just because Santa was coming.

My aunt and uncle in Germany would ship a huge package of chocolate, candy, gifts and, most important to me, a Lego set that you could only find in Europe.

From gas stations to firehouses to a lunar lander, these kits were absolutely the bomb!

I lacked the patience and aptitude to glue tiny pieces together and to follow what felt like endless instructions so I was not a builder of traditional models of planes or ships.

But Legos were democratic that way.

There was something so satisfying about following the illustration-only Lego instructions (no text) and coming away with a completed project.

I can remember getting small models at the Macy’s in the Bronx for 50 cents and I could hardly wait to get home to build them.

I had quite a collection of the assembled sets, which I arranged into dioramas of cities, harbors and lunar landings.


My family made trips to Germany when I was 6 and 13, and both times we made a bus trip to the Legoland amusement park in Billund, Denmark. The park, which opened in 1968, was the only Legoland in the world at the time. (Today, there are seven, with another one planned for New York.)

Getting to the one in Denmark was a three-hour bus ride from where we were in Germany, but it was worth every minute.


I was agog.

Everywhere were these intricate models of zoo animals, cities and airports made of Legos.

On the second visit, the park had expanded and featured a replica of Mount Rushmore made out of 1.5 million Legos!


The news that a $500 million Legoland amusement park could be opening in Goshen, N.Y., within an hour’s drive of the Poconos, has me giddy with excitement.

The developers hope to open it by 2019, though the project has drawn considerable opposition over issues like traffic.

I don’t know if it will happen or not, but it would be a way to tap into one my favorite childhood pastimes.

You can take the boy out of the Legos but you cannot take the Legos out of the boy!

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Riding the Rails: All Aboard!

Germany summer 2011 143

The  older I get, the more I have come to appreciate the phrase “boys and their toys.”

It is an allusion — not always flattering — to men’s affinity for things mechanical or on wheels.

I never really inhabited that territory.

Cars? Meh.

Boats? Nah.

But short line railroads? Now you’re talking!

I can recall as a kid going to Old McDonald’s Farm in Connecticut and Catskill Game Farm in New York and riding their mini railroads and being enchanted. Or bringing my sons to the Bergen County Zoo in New Jersey and riding the rail it has there.

And as an adult, I’ve enjoyed the trips along the Delaware & Ulster Railroad and the Adirondack Scenic Railroad.

So I was captivated to see in The New York Times a story headlined “Riding the Rails in the Bronx.

The story explored this group that wants to put small open-air cars on tracks that are abandoned or seldom used.

When I posted a link to the story on Facebook, I called out the About Men Radio posse and suggested we should do this.

“Would so get our own car,” I wrote, “drinking, smoking, cussing, cellphones all permitted, and ride the wide open rails!”

My suggestion was met with immediate enthusiasm from the AMR crew.


Boys and their toys.

I mean, c’mon, the idea of riding in one of these old work rail cars, called a speeder, along the open rails of the Bronx?!


We could outfit it with a couch, a boom box to play 80s tunes and a wet bar! It would be a man cave on rails!

Before you ask “Does your train of thought have a caboose?” let me tell you why such personalized rail cars like these excite me: Because they do exist and I’ve ridden one!

I have cousins in Germany, some of whom live in Langeness, one of 10 halligs in the world. A hallig is an island without dikes that floods almost completely.

When the floods come, these hills become islands. The roads are impassable and they have to wait for the waters to recede.

One hundred year-round residents populate Langeness, which is made up of 18 big hills where the homes and farm buildings are perched.

You can take a ferry to reach the hallig but the most fascinating form of transit is a motorized rail car called a lorrie.

Think of a lorrie as a shed with bench seats that can seat six and that you can put on railroad tracks.

The lorrie line, which is three miles long, crosses land and sea and each inhabitant on the hallig has their own.

On the lorrie line, there are no radios, no track signals and no control tower.

For a kid who grew up on the No. 6 Lexington Avenue subway line, riding the lorrie was an immense treat.

It reminds me very much of what these rail enthusiasts hope to achieve in the Bronx. To which, all I can say is: Good luck to them and all aboard!

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