To be honest, when I saw this box, I really didn't know what it was, it was unmistakenly a DDR product and a quick peek inside the box learned that all the small parts were still in plastic. It was one of those occasions when you just know: “this is something good!”. Besides, it had won a golden medal at the Leipziger Messe for outstanding quality; now that's a guarantee that you can't go wrong with this!
When I started reading the manual and searched on the internet, I found out I had become the proud owner of a PIKO dat, one of the earliest “programmable computers” that was made available to the general public. It is a 'spiel- und lerncomputer', a 'play and learn computer', an educational tool for the youth and adults alike to get familiar with the wonderful new world of 'automated computing'.
>'So, what pieces of ingenious and advanced electronics are used to create this marvel of science?'
Well eh.. some plastic buttons, a couple of lamps and lots of wire. That's basically it. It is a computer in its very essence: you connect wires to turn them into 'logic gates', you change the connections with 10 plastic drawbars, on the other side there are 13 small lights that are turned on and off.
>'Now, what does it do? '
Anything you want it to! Its possibilities are (almost) unlimited! You can make a signal system for your model trains, turn it into a calculator, make it your automated quiz master, play a computer hockey game, or bowling, etcetera etcetera. The sky is the limit! (o well, in reality the limit is the number of possible combinations of 13 lights operated by 10 switches, but believe me, that is a really large number!)
This machine was first sold in 1969 (the preface of the manual is signed 'July, 1969', the same month as the first moonlanding) by a company called 'Piko'. Piko (which stands for Pionier Konstruktion) was a 'Volkseigener Betrieb', a 'company owned by the people' (read: 'state owned') that came into existence in 1948. Actually, its existence was ordered at the time by the Soviet military government because all manufacturers of model trains were in West Germany, and of course the workers of the socialist paradise needed model trains! Apart from trains, Piko specialized in electro-mechanical toys. Today, the company still exists, and is one of the leading brands in model trains.
Like many other things, the PIKO dat is a shameless rip-off of a product that was available in the West. The Kosmos Spielcomputer LOGIKUS was introduced one year earlier in West-Germany. You can read about the Logikus on this website here (in german). But, unlike the PIKO dat, the Logikus is a decadent product from the evil capitalist west, of course...
Is it the no-nonsense shape? The solid greyness of the plastic? The typography on the box? Whatever it is, the PIKO dat is unmistakenly a product of the east. This is a sturdy 'Volkseigenes' machine that prepares the young and heroes of the working class for a glorious future in a technologically advanced socialist state!
Looking at all the parts of this machine that has never been built, it is really easy to imagine the exitement of the person, who ordered a PIKO dat (at a price of 69 (DDR-)Mark!) - probably had to wait months and months before it arrived - and opened the box for the very first time. For the first time in history, the everyday working class people were able to build a machine that could do almost magical things, a machine that introduced the new computer era inside your own home..