Nine new recruits will commence their duties in the University of Waikato's German Programme before Christmas - all of them hand-crafted puppets from the Thuringian Forest in Central Germany.
The puppets include Kasper, the Old King, the Devil, and his grandmother. Dr Norman Franke, convenor of the German Programme attended a conference in Germany a few months ago and commissioned a local carver to make replicas of the puppets he saw in the Werra Valley museum.
Dr Franke is planning to use his puppets for promoting the German language programme. "Learning to speak a second language has a performative dimension, but some learners are a bit self-conscious. Lending one's voice to the puppets is fun and can make it easier to tackle tricky pronunciation or grammar," he says.
The most interesting character of them all has got to be Kasper who always sports his trade-mark bobble head.
"Always hungry and thirsty, Kasper is also always on the lookout for cute girls and he is always broke. But on a good day he can out-wit the Professor and out-smart the Devil. Not so different from many Waikato students really," says Franke.
Like their English relatives Punch and Judy the German Kasper-Puppen are funny and witty and have license to speak a few truths that could bring students, lecturers or journalists into trouble.
"In the late 1980s the puppets supported us in our struggle against the Nuclear Arms Race. Even the Devil joined the protest against the arms race as he realized that a nuclear apocalypse would spoil his opportunity to play mischief on people and fetch their souls. In the end, the puppets, the people in Eastern and Western Europe and some responsible politicians won. Together they stopped the arms race and the Berlin Wall came down."
According to Franke, there is a deeper cultural dimension to the puppet theatre as well.
"In the days before the radio, TV and the Internet, in the remote areas of Europe, wandering puppet players performed for audiences who did not have access to entertainment in urban centres."