The dominant German manufacturers of O gauge trains such as Märklin, Bing, or Bub were all concentrated in the Southern and Western parts of the country. Less is known about the smaller firms in Eastern Germany, and the renaissance of O gauge that took place behind the Iron Curtain and lasted from 1945 to 1961, a period when elsewhere most firms were changing over to HO scale models.
When thinking about O gauge trains "Made in the GDR" (German Democratic Republic), the names Zeuke and Liebmann spring to mind. Both firms became major players in the GDR model train industry that was concentrated in the states of Saxony and Thuringia as well as in Berlin.
Zeuke was founded in the eastern part of Berlin shortly before the end of WWII. After the war, Werner Zeuke partnered with Helmut Wegwerth to form the Zeuke & Wegwerth KG (KG = Kommanditgesellschaft = limited partnership).
The new company 'Zeuke und Wegwerth' announced their TT scale models on the fair of Leipzig in 1957. They came on the market in 1958 with a complete set of one diesel and two steam trains with freight cars, coach waggons and rail track. Because of the smallness of the TT gauge which fitted better in most houses and the lower priced models it became quite popular in the GDR. In the summer of 1972 Zeuke was transferred in a state guided company called 'Berliner TT Bahnen', shortly BTTB.
Because Zeuke had left the company, BTTB was not anymore that creative as 'Zeuke und Wegwerth'. But BTTB produced in large quantities and exported their products for a large part to Eastern Europe. Following German reunification, the company was turned over to businessman Carlo Parisel.
Parisel modernized the manufacturing facilities and brought marketing expertise to the company, intending to market his product to the entire world. His efforts reminded the rest of the world not only that TT scale equipment was available, but that TT is a viable modeling scale. In Autumn, 1993 Berliner TT-Bahnen was sold to Tillig Trains and Track. In 1992 a complete line of high quality, ready-to-use TT track products was introduced.
Along with its 3-rail model trains, Zeuke also produced a line of toy trains with battery or clockwork versions of the T48 Bakelite 0-4-0 tank locomotives, and also a line of tinplate stock. The battery locomotives had a small 4.5V DC can motor and bright red vinyl wheels with friction tires (that were more appealing than the brown phenoplast wheels of the 3-rail and clockwork versions). The simple hook couplings were not compatible with the firm’s own automatic couplings, and the wagons had no buffers. Although the locomotives had reverse gear, the lack of front couplings was disappointing on a tank engine. The 1961/62 catalogue introduced two new battery-powered steeple-cabs ‘B60’, available as a diesel or electric version with pantograph. They were Zeuke’s last O gauge locomotives, now extremely rare because only a few were sold, and their thin plastic shells broke easily.
What's your 'Zeuke' worth? Here are some recently sold items (USA):