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The Hasbro Press Event in Hamburg & Munich, May 2007

Report from a fan and expert

How did I get the gig?

One fine day Yours Truly received an email from the Amazon customer service. Curious, I opened the mail and look what I found. Apparently an employee of the marketing agency Euro RSCG ABC (what's with all the letters?) contacted Amazon because of several reviews I wrote for the various Transformers books they sell. She was searching for a German Transformers expert.

My interest was piqued and so I contacted her. That's when I learned that Hasbro Germany was in the process of putting together two press events on May 8 and May 10, 2007 to unveil the new Transformers Movie toys. And they wanted someone there who could tell the assembled members of the press something about the history of the Transformers, a hardcore fan if you will.

Needless to say I was hooked. Images of the Movie toys danced before my eyes. I would be able to see and touch them ahead of the rest of the world. Maybe I'd even be allowed to take some home with me? I immediately arranged for a meeting to move the whole thing ahead.

In order to make a good first impression I spent the weekend before the meeting putting together a rough draft of a presentation outlining the history of the Transformers and voila, the two ladies from the marketing agency - Silja Guelicher and Sabine Gebauer - were impressed as planned. Some back and forth later the whole thing was settled. I would appear at both press events as Transformers expert. And even better: Apart from at least one Transformers Movie toy I'd even get paid money.

A dream had come true: I'd get money for talking about Transformers. That was the beginning and what a beginning it was.

Going to Hamburg

The days seemed to crawl by agonizingly slowly, but finally May 8 had arrived, the day of the first press event in Hamburg. At noon I climbed aboard the plane at Frankfurt Airport and braved the stormy weather to fly due North. After checking into the hotel and taking a shower to get rid of the airplane smell I met the people from the marketing agency - Silja, Sabine, and their boss Oliver - and we drove to the event's location.

Said location being a garage beneath a gas station on the Reeperbahn (Hamburg's sin street), dark, dirty, and with water dripping from the ceiling. No kidding, that's the truth.

Lots of people were already hard at work as we arrived at around 4 pm. Lots of decorations to put up, Transformers cardboard cut-outs, spotlights, chairs for the guests, and of course the most important thing of them all: THE TOYS! Already assembled and ready to be gawked at.

After staring at them for about half an hour with my eyes glazed over I finally had the courage to touch the first of them. Unfortunately that was also the time for the dress rehearsal for my presentation. Using a forklift's fork as a lectern and with the spotlights sizzling away my retinas, I also met my co-presentor for the first time.

René Woerns, Marketing Director of Hasbro Germany and main man for the whole Transformers Movie deal here in Germany. After a slightly rocky but overall decent rehearsal I had the time to do some talking with Mr. Woerns while all around us the final preparations were underway. Some facts from our conversation:

  • The missing Cybertron toys probably won't make their way to Germany. If they do, it will be as part of the Movie line, but they probably won't appear at all.
  • The Classics toys won't come to Germany at all.
  • There are some plans in the works to bring some additional Alternators and possibly even one or two of the Masterpiece figures to Germany, but nothing's set in stone here yet.
  • Mentioning one of my pet peeves - the massive amount of rubber bands and wire straps that inevitably come with every Transformers toy - only resulted in a shrug. Apparently I wasn't the first one with this complaint, but so far no change is in sight.')

Overall I've come to appreciate Mr. Woerns as a nice and very relaxed fellow during our talk and the same goes for the remaining Hasbro people at location, for example Ms. Rafaela Hartenstein, the PR manager for the Transformers line. Now don't ask me what the difference is between a marketing director and a PR manager, I don't know. The whole atmosphere of the event was pretty relaxed and friendly. I never got the impression of being unwanted or in the way.

One drawback about the location, though. The garage under the gas station quickly turned stuffy, filled with cigarette smoke, and the drinks were late, too. Also, the only restroom was upstairs in the gas station, which wasn't the nicest of places late at night on the Reeperbahn. So maybe the fact that we were sweating a lot and had nothing to drink wasn't that bad.

It's a small world

It was only one day before the event when I learned that I'd finally have a face to face meeting with a fellow Transformers fanatic whom I only knew online until then. He was Silencer, aka Thach-Vu. He was there as a guest, seeing as he had participated in GeeMagazine's Transformers competition for the best fan-made Transformers video clip. He only scored fourth place, but while that didn't earn him the big prize, an Ultimate Interactive Bumblebee figure on a stand, it did get him an invite to this event, where he'd be able to take home a Transformers folding chair and a deluxe Movie figure as a give-away present. Which is nothing to scoff at.

The event is starting

And so were underway. The lights went off, the guests - representatives of various magazines and even a cable TV channel - took their seats on the specially made Transformers folding chairs and a small trailer started running on the big screen in front of us to get things started. It started off with the first teaser trailer for the Transformers movie where the Mars Rover is squashed by a shadowy robot shape.

Then, after ten seconds of silence, René Woerns entered in a large black hummer with howling engine (though environmentally friendly, we were assured later, as the hummer ran on natural gas) and took his place to greet the guests. After some words of welcome he presented another trailer from the so-called fan sizzle CD, a short collage of clips showing various fans talking about Transformers, some animations, and a bundle of other scenes.

After Mr. Woerns explained the agenda of the evening we already arrived at my part. I was asked to join him at the fork lift and started my presentation, which you can read in the next bunch of paragraphs (not word for word, of course, I like to improvise during presentations):

The Transformers Presentation

René Woerns: "And now I hand over the stand to our expert Philip Schwersensky, who will introduce you to the world of the Transformers. Welcome, Mr. Schwersensky. I was told you have collected Transformers action figures for some time now - How big is your collection?"

More than 400 figures - ranging from the 80s products right up to present day. My collection is one of the biggest in Germany - and the only one you can see every single piece of online. Pictures of the entire collection are on my website (indicates the screen, where a picture of is shown)

My fascination with Transformers began pretty much right at the start of the original cartoon series. Back in the mid-80s we received the British Sky Channel in our cable network and they showed the cartoon on Saturday morning. I immediately started nagging my parents to buy me some of these great figures - even though I barely understood a word of the English dialogues.

(Next I presented some pieces from my collection)

The story of the Transformers is pretty much the most classic story of them all, the struggle of good against evil, represented hereby the Autobots and the Decepticons. To fill in some details we ask you to watch the following piece with us.

(Exert from the CD: The Ultimate Battle, 00:41-01:15)

Some of you, probably those with kids of your own, won't be surprisedc to learn that the idea of transformable robots originates in Japan. Robots that turn into some kind of vehicle or other seem to have been stomping around Japan for decades. And some of them are even direct ancestors of the Transformers:

(Diaclone commercial is shown)

But if we've seen something like this way before, why was it that only the Transformers, starting in 1984, really drew in fans from all over the world? What is so special about Transformers, that turned it into such a phenomenon. What was it about them that was new and original?

The Transformers phenomenon is, in my opinion, composed of at least three different aspects. Number one is the idea behind the action figures, their changeability. You have a robot and at least one car or other vehicle all rolled up in a single toy with all the play value combined. Second, robots are a fascinating idea all by themselves, man creating a machine in his own image. And third, the main idea of Transformers being that extraordinary things (i.e. alien robots) hide behind mundane things like cars and cell phones, nothing being what it seems.

Case in point a scene from the upcoming movie. A young man, the main human character, chooses to buy a Camaro, not suspecting that the Camaro actually chose to be bought by him, seeing as it's really Bumblebee. And that is, for me, the most important thing that differentiates Transformers from other, similar toys and stories: Here, for the first time, the robots aren't just some kind of battle armour or soulless killing machines out to annihilate their creators, they are actual characters. Good and evil, possessing all the strengths and flaws of us humans.

(Exert from the CD: The Ultimate Battle, 1:19-1:53)

For myself and other kids of my generation that concept held endless fascination: We were seeing something completely new that combined several different ideas into one. And this originality succeeded in a number of different medias. The cartoon series ran for 100 episodes, the American comic series published 80 issues, the British Transformers comic went beyond 300 issues.

(Here we showed some pictures of comic book covers)

And the best thing: All the stories we saw in the comics, the cartoon, etc. were based on the action figures we could buy in the store, meaning we could reenact everything back home. An entire generation was inspired by that. Endless numbers of toys were sold, toys that offered play value in a number of different forms and, most importantly, the endless fun inherit in the transformation process itself. To give you an impression of how things looked back then we dug up an old Transformers TV commercial from 1985:

(Constructicons commercial is shown)

One of the main reasons for the long lifespan of the Transformers was their ability to constantly reinvent themselves. While we started out with robot that could "just" turn into cars, we soon had numerous other ideas: Several robots that could combine into a larger super robot - like we just saw in the commercial - a robot splitting into several different vehicles, robots with up to six different alternate modes and up to 60 centimenter tall super robots.

But all good things come to an end, if but temporary, and in the early 90s the Transformers were cancelled. For fans like me that wasn't the end, of course. The action figures quickly became valuable collectibles - even before the advent of ebay - and the comics and cartoon episodes were equally sought (the latter still in VHS format, as the older guys among the audience might recall). And in the mid-90s the Transformers came back on-screen in the form of the extremely successful Beast Wars series:

(Beast Wars intro is shown)

Instead of vehicles we now had realistic animals as disguise for the robots. The fans, at first sceptical, quickly accepted this new concept, once again something new and original. Additionally, Transformers braved new ideas in other ways, too, seeing as Beast Wars was one of the first ever TV series that was completely computer animated using CGI technology.

Ever since Beast Wars the Transformers phenomenon has been running without break. Today there are countless different websites devoted to them, YouTube hosts hundreds of video clips featuring Transformers and if you search for Transformers on ebay you will find more than enough opportunity to spend money on figures and comics. Fan conventions about the Transformers were started as well and people began to build their own Transformers, be they made of cardboard, wire and plastic, or even animated:

(Some clips from YouTube are shown: This onethis one, and that one.)

And even before the announcement that we'd soon be seeing a big life action Transformers movie produced by Steven Spielberg the Transformers began spreading out into the real world, or at least into the world of TV commercials. We have spotted them at Citroen, Nissan, and Saab among others:

(Car commercials featuring Transformers are shown)

Car companies using Transformers for their commercials isn't that radical an idea, seeing as the first Transformers were cars. But we also found some examples of other industries utilizing the concept:

(Commercials from Nike and a copy paper producer are shown)

I guess you can say these commercials are a sign that the fascination of the mundane transforming into the extraordinary has gripped the mainstream as well.

I said it earlier, ever since their first appearance the Transformers have managed to constantly reinvent themselves, be it on TV, in the comic book pages, or in the toy shelves. The figures are constantly improving, getting more posable, more detailed. And the bandwidth of figures available is growing ever broader.

We're not just talking about toys for kids anymore. Some years ago, for example, the Alternators line of Transformers toys was started. Realistic models of real cars (from Jaguar, Dodge, Subaru and others) were licensed and made into highly detailed and posable Transformers figures.

(Pictures of the Alternators are shown)

There was no cartoon series accompanying the Alternators, their story was merged seamlessly into the classic Generation 1 story, meaning the original 80s cartoon series. So the focus group of this toy line became evident: The now-adult fans of the original series.

But the original fans were given even more. Hardcore collectors were offered some of their favorite characters from Generation 1 in the form of the Masterpiece series. Giant, highly detailed and super-posable version of old friends like Optimus Prime and Megatron were issued. Not toys for kids, but rather for adults who retained some measure of their childhood.

(Pictures of Masterpiece Prime are shown)

But of course the market doesn't end with the old fans of the originals. Each new Transformers series tried to ensure to offer something for everyone. For example the Basic-class of toys offers small, easily transformed figures at low prices for the beginners.

(Pictures of Basic-class Transformers)

And for those looking for more, the range in regards to size, complexity, and play value was wide open:

(Picutres of Deluxe, Mega and Supreme class Transformers)

In other words: The Transformers offer something for everyone: Young and old, collectors and action fans. And 2007 is turning out to be a great year for all Transformers fans, because we finally get what we've been waiting 23 for: A life action Transformers movie.

But more on that later on.

Finally! The toys!

After passing the mic back to René Woerns and a discreet exit stage left we finally got around to the presentation of the new figures. Starting with the small Legends figures, the slightly bigger Deluxe figures, the still-larger Voyager figures, the pretty big Leader Class figures, the small-kid-oriented Cyber Stompers and Cyber Slammers, the somewhat simple Fast Action Battlers, the Real Gear robots, and of course the 40cm tall Ultimate Interactive Bumblebee.

Apart from the figures themselves we also had some toys oriented more towards role-play, the Optimus Prime Armblaster and the Optimus Prime helmet with voice distorter. The latter was presented by Yours Truly, who used it to tell some anecdotes in the voice of Peter Cullen.

Once we were through with the figures we ended the presentation with a viewing of the current Transformers Movie trailer. We got it right on the second try, on the first one technology failed us and we were only subjected to audio, missing the video. Then again, how boring would it be if everything worked perfectly?

The post-presentation get-together

After the presentation the assembled guests were finally aloud to get their hands dirty. Both on the Burger King sponsored food (including the Happy Meal Movie toys) and, of course, on the assembled Movie toys.

One thing was quickly apparent: Adults have at least as much fun transforming the figures as kids do, but kids are usually not quite as clumsy doing it. So it was that I found myself summoned to help out quite a few times, being the resident expert in transforming. Keeping in mind the fact that this was the first time I held these figures in hand myself, I like to think I did pretty well, if I do say so myself.

But the greatest challenge was yet to come. Ultimate Interactive Bumblebee! No one wanted to be the first to fail in his transformation. Finally a crack team of fearless hardcore fans was assembled to make the impossible possible. Those heroes were Thach-Vu, his partner-in-crime Phu, and Yours Truly. The jacket was taken off, the sleeves were rolled up, spit was applied, and so we went to work. And finally: Our combined effort bore fruit, Ultimate Interactive Bumblebee was transformed into his Camaro form in roughly 30 to 40 minutes. Thach-Vu managed to transform him back to robot mode on his own later on, and much faster, too.

After this act of heroism I was interviewed, camera and all. A namesake of mine - Philip Senkbeil - did an interview for Giga TV. At the end of the interview he then challenged me to a transforming race. So we both attempted to transform the Deluxe figure Wreckage from vehicle to robot as fast as possible. The outcome? Giga-Philip was the first to finish, but he had transformed the figure wrong. So the winner ended up being Yours Truly. Excuse me while I pat my own back.

Now it's time for bed!

At around 11 pm the event concluded. The press people were on their way home and the poor workers and technicians, who had been at this since 6 am, could finally begin to pack up and ship out.

My heart bled, of course, as I watched all these Movie figures being put back into their boxes, but the dark clouds had a silver lining. A short talk with Ms. Hartenstein from Hasbro revealed that most of the figures wouldn't be needed anymore after the second event in Munich. So she told me to bring a big suitcase to Munich (which I did, but more on that later).

And finally it was time for me, too, to pack my things and head back to the hotel. My booty at this time? A Transformers press kit (containing a CD with pictures, a transforming ballpoint pen, a mirror box and a very generic Hasbro commercial folder), a Deluxe Movie figure (Brawl), a Burger King figure (Scorponok) and a Transformers folding chair (which has since been annexed by my cat).

Arriving at the hotel I went up to my room immediately. Originally I planned to take another shower, seeing as I had drenched my clothes more than once in that stuffy, smokey atmosphere, but I made the mistake of lying down on the bed first. You know, just to close my eyes for a minute or two to relax and come down a bit.

The shower didn't take place until the next morning.

Munich - The Sequel

After flying back home on Thursday morning I climbed on the train on Friday at noon to drive to Munich for the second press event. The train ride was a lot more relaxing than the flight to Hamburg (on time and less turbulence) and so the Prussian boy was relaxed and greeted with sunshine as he entered the enemy country of Bavaria.

After the check-in at the hotel I made my way to the second garage of the week, five minutes on foot away. Entering the garage I realised one thing: Garages are mirror images of their cities. Where the Reeperbahn garage in Hamburg was dirty, stuffy, and underground, the garage in Munich was clean (at least for a garage), upstairs on the fourth floor, and a lot roomier, too. Okay, we had water dripping from the ceiling here, too, but we were assured that it was clean water, practically fit to drink. I don't think anyone tried, though.

The little differences:

The event in Munich followed the same basic agenda as the one in Hamburg, so I will only mention some of the differences I noticed:

  • Technology (almost) never failed us this time.
  • There was no forklift as a lectern. This time we were given an old, rusty oil barrel.
  • The two speakers were more relaxed and had their words down pat.
  • The number of toys on display had shrunk. Apparently Blackout and one of the two available Leader Class Optimus Primes took off somewhere between Hamburg and Munich.
  • Oliver Korittke, a German actor, was present to announce the winner of the video competition.

I spent some time talking with Oliver and got to know him as an easy-going guy. Not surprising, we were two Berlin boys stuck in Bavaria. Okay, so he's an actor, meaning he likes to talk a lot, but apart from that he's a really nice guy. He's also a fellow collector, not chiefly of Transformers, but with a much wider range of interest. According to him he has more than 10,000 items back home, ranging from Todd McFarlane figures to Star Wars, Anime figures, and lots of other stuff. He did invite me to look him up and gawk at his collection the next time I'm in Berlin, but only if he could take a look at mine if he's ever in Dieburg. We'll see if any of that ever happens.

While we had a few less visitors in Munich as compared to Hamburg, that made the whole evening a bit more relaxed and everything went just a little bit more smoothly. The presentation went down without a hitch and with no changes to the first time around apart from the better-working tech. People learn from their mistakes, after all.

After the presentation and the displaying of the Movie figures we had another get-together with the food provided by Burger King and the inevitable attempt of a horde of adults to transform the Movie figures. Fortunately I was a lot more firm in transforming Ultimate Interactive Bumblebee this time around.

New acquaintances

Another new acquaintance I made that evening was Sascha Mennel, representative of Comma Publications, who will publish the official German magazin for the Transformers Movie. Just a single special issue at first, containing among other things German translations of the official Movie comic and the Movie prequel comic. He wanted one of my cards, so they could do an interview for the magazine. I, of course, gave him one. I'm turning into a spotlight addict.

Other people present: A representative of Hasbro Austria, who immediately asked me if I happened to know an Austrian version of myself, meaning an Austrian fan who'd be willing to play my part at an Austrian press event in Vienna. I promised to keep an eye out, but also mentioned that I am half Austrian myself and really should visit my grandparents in Vienna one of these days, haven't done that in a while. But that's beside the point.

Ms. Hartenstein from Hasbro also mentioned, that the people from GQ will probably be approaching me soon. Apparently GQ also wants to do some kind of feature connected to Transformers, less the Movie and more regarding the phenomenon, probably something along the line of "what are the kids of the 80s doing today". We'll see what, if anything, will happen here. I always wanted to be featured on the cover of GQ. I'd even take out my best suit for that.

And one last thing: My respect for Mr. Woerns from Hasbro has risen another notch after he showed us a picture of the last toy event he attended. Topic: My Little Pony. Mr. Woerns appeared there dressed in a pink plush suit complete with pony head. Man, that's dedication to your job. Sadly he provided no copies of the picture, which I can kind of understand.

Awarding the best Transformers fan-made film

As I mentioned above Oliver Korittke had his own part to play, meaning that he had to award the winner of the GeeMag Transformers film competition. The winner in question wasn't attending, though, seeing as he was busy doing his exams. God, children these days. Where are their priorities???

Whatever, they showed the winning film next. Title: Hero. In a stop motion film we saw a cigarette box fold up into some kind of vaguela man-like shape, put on a pair of foil pants, walk across a very dirty kitchen counter, brave an oil-filled frying pan, and defend a cucumber against a vicious knife. In the end the cigarette box won, the knife was banished, and the cucumber gave the cigarette box a kiss. I'm really not sure what any of that had to do with Transformers, but whatever.

In any case, Oliver awarded the winner his price in abstinentia, an Ultimate Interactive Bumblebee figure on a stand.

Personally I've seen just one other film that partook in the GeeMag competition, the one made by Silencer. And while I may be a bit biased here, seeing as I know Silencer personally, I liked his film "Screws" a lot better than the winning one. But that's just me and I wasn't on the Jury.

The most important part of the evening

When the event finally winded down we finally arrived at what was the most important part for me: I could finally bring out my big suitcase. Seeing as I am a well-behaved boy I first inquired with Ms. Hartmann which figures I could pack up. And here is the result of that query:

Lots of Deluxe and Real Gear figures sealed on card, the (no longer packaged) Ultimate Interactive Bumblebee (with the sweat and tears of Silencer and myself still on it), an Optimus Prime helmet and Armblaster, a few Legends figures, the full range of classic mini figures, a Decepticon T-shirt (which needs to go into the washer first) and a few loose figures on the side. Sadly I wasn't allowed to take the remaining Leader Class Optimus Prime, seeing as he was the only one Hasbro Germany had left for their promotion, and neither could I pack up the Transformers Risk game.

But Mr. Woerns and Ms. Hartmann have already invited me to come by Hasbro in Dreieich one day (which is about twenty minutes from my home), so maybe I can score a few more figures there.

Additional booty was the CD containing the whole multimedia presentation of the evening. With about 400 MB it's a bit too big to put online, but in case anyone is interested, just let me know and we'll try and arrange something.

And so, just before midnight, I arrived back at the hotel, weighed down, sweaty, but very happy. And no matter how tired I was, the first thing I did was put up my entire booty and took some pictures.

Back home!

And so, after what was not exactly a good night's sleep thanks to a much-too-soft hotel bed, I went on my merry way back to the train station. And seeing as I had some hours to spare before my train left station, I took some time to go shopping in Munich's shopping district. The results: A present for my wife, some ice cream from McDonald's (to balance the many Burger King items I had consumed this week), and a Cybertron Defence Scattorshot figure, bought at Galeria Kaufhof.

So to sum up my invasion of Bavaria: Complete Success! Only the train ride back to Dieburg turned out to be a bit more complicated thanks to a tree that fell across the tracks. So it took me a bit longer to get home, but Murphy tells me something always must go wrong.

What's left?

This is where I say my farewells to all the readers who held out until this point and I promise to put up full pictures and reviews of all my captured Movie figures as soon as possible, so you have something to go by once they become available in the stores.

I'll also be getting a CD with the complete range of pictures taken during the two events very soon and will put up some examples on my homepage, so you can get some more impressions of what it was like.

The people from Giga TV also wanted to send me a copy of the interview they did, and I'll put that one up as well, if possible.

And who knows? With some stuff still up and coming, i.e. my visit to Hasbro, my interview with GQ and the Transformers Movie magazine, I'm sure I'll soon have some more stuff to talk about.

Until then I remain yours sincerely,


Added on May 29, 2007: I have now added the official press release pictures, too.


Picture Galleries:

My Pictures:

Official Pictures:


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