One of the key figures of the Protestant Reformation which broke the religious monopoly of the Catholic Church in Europe has found a new incarnation as a toy – and he's proving just as popular in plastic as he was in person.
Playmobil, which produces a wide range of tiny articulated dolls, was taken by surprise when its figurine of Martin Luther (1483-1546) proved a huge success. Luther is depicted dressed in 16th century academic robes, replete with cap, scroll and quill, and holding a copy of his New Testament in German.
Around 34,000 of the 'little Luthers' were sold in just 72 hours, 95 per cent of them in Germany, which Playmobil spokeswoman Anna Ermann said was "absolutely the fastest we've ever experienced".
Luther is a revered figure in Germany, credited not just with standing up to the power of the Pope and exposing corruption within the Church but with contributing to the formation of the German language and culture through his writings.
The model was produced for the German and Nuremberg tourist boards and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria, and is part of preparations for the 500th anniversary of the publication of Luther's '95 theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences', widely regarded as the basis for the Reformation movement. His criticisms of the Catholic Church led to his excommunication in 1521 and the growth of Protestantism as a separate religious movement.
Astid Mühlmann, director of the governmental office preparing for the 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation, told Newsweek that education might be behind the toy's popularity.
"There's quite an interest in looking back to our history," she said. "Parents want to make sure their children grow up knowing who he is because he had such an impact on how society evolved in Europe."
She added: "I'm very happy with the news because it shows people are interested in history. On the one hand, Martin Luther was a totally normal person in the 16th century who believed in demons and witches and was afraid of them. He shared the belief of the majority of the people of the time.
"On the other hand he had very modern ideas. He believed every person had the right to an education, including women and girls. In this aspect, he was a very 21st century man."