Sculpture of Albrecht Berblinger, the “Flying Tailor from Ulm” and Nine Coins
In 2022, the Monuments Men and Women Foundation donated ten objects to the Museum Ulm in Ulm, Germany: nine coins dating from the 16th to the 19th centuries and a carved wooden sculpture of Albrecht Berblinger, known as the “Flying Tailor from Ulm.”
The “Flying Tailor from Ulm” was brought to the United States as a war souvenir by Lieutenant James “Jim” K. Kunkle, a P-38 and P-51 fighter pilot of the Ninth Air Force. After the war, the statue was brought, wrapped in fabric, to his Ramersdorf, Germany, home by an unknown woman who bartered the object for packs of cigarettes. A torn description card in English on the bottom of the wood sculpture read “Berblin...from Ulm...”, referencing Albrecht Ludwig Berblinger and the city of Ulm.
AT A GLANCE...
A wooden sculpture, depicting Albrecht Ludwig Berblinger, the “Flying Tailor from Ulm”. Berblinger was a pioneer of personal aviation, conducting experiments with hang-gliders and the ‘heavier than air’ principle in the early 19th century, and nine coins dating from the 16th to the 19th centuries.
Circumstances of Loss:
The sculpture was brought to the Ramersdorf, Germany, home of Lt. James “Jim” K. Kunkle and his wife, wrapped in fabric by an unknown woman who bartered the object for packs of cigarettes. The Kunkles brought the sculpture home with them when they returned to the United States. The coins were taken to the US by a soldier with the US Army.
On Thursday, July 28, the wooden sculpture of Albrecht Berblinger and the nine coins were handed over to the Ulm Museum by Foundation president Anna Bottinelli and senior researcher Dorothee Schneider.
Discovery and Research
James “Jim” K. Kunkle, a P-38 and P-51 fighter pilot of the Ninth Air Force, and first wife, Marian, lived in a small house in Ramersdorf, Germany. He has been stationed at Neubiberg Air Force Base as a fighter pilot and engineering officer from about early December 1946, and Marian joined him in early 1947. The American military has requisitioned the homes from local Germans, and the Berblinger sculpture was brought to the house in Ramersdorf, wrapped in a blanket or tablecloth, by an unknown woman. She wished to trade the statue for American cigarettes, and as Jim was not home at the time, Marian negotiated the exchange. Jim and Marian left Germany in 1947, and returned to the United States with the sculpture. It was in their home until it was transferred to the Foundation.
A published article within the National Library of Medicine included the following abstract on Albrecht Berblinger:
Albrecht Ludwig Berblinger (1770-1829), known as the ‘Flying Tailor of Ulm’, started with flight experiments in Ulm, Germany, in the early 19th century. He gained experience in downhill gliding with a manoeuvrable airworthy semi-rigid hang-glider and then attempted to cross the Danube River at Ulm's Eagle's Bastion on the 31st of May 1811. The tricky local winds caused him to crash and he was rescued by fishermen, making him the first survivor of a water immersion accident of a heavier-than-air manned ‘flight machine’. Though he failed in his attempt to be the first man to fly, Berblinger can be regarded as one of the significant aviation pioneers who applied the ‘heavier than air’ principle and paved the way for the more effective glide-flights of Otto Lilienthal (1891) and the Wright Brothers (1902). Less known are Berblinger's significant contributions to the construction of artificial limbs for medical use, as well as the spring-application in aviation. His invention of a special mechanical joint was also used for the juncture of the wings of his ‘flying machine’.
The “Tailor from Ulm” remains a celebrated figure within Ulm culture. The city throws festivals to honor Berblinger’s legacy, and several large sculptures commemorating Berblinger are located within the city. The public can also view a model of Berblinger’s flying machine in the stairwell of the Ulm City Hall.
The Foundation contacted three museums regarding the Berblinger sculpture: Museum Ulm, the Oberammergau Museum, and the Rammersdorf Deutsches Museum. None of the three museums contacted had any record of the sculpture being taken or looted from their collections. The statue may not have come from a public collection at all, especially since there were no physical markings suggesting so (i.e. stamps, labels). Also, none of the museums were able to confirm the time period or region from which it originated. Since it was unlikely that the precise former home of the sculpture would be found, it was decided that the sculpture should be returned to the town of Ulm, specifically the Museum Ulm.
As to the coins, the Foundation received an anonymous package containing a note, the copy of a letter and a smaller parcel. The package contained the nine coins. The note stated:
The enclosed package contains some damaged coins that were looted from an exhibit at, I was told, Ulm, Germany, during at [sic] assault on the city by U.S. forces in 1945, during World War II. An explanatory note is enclosed with the coins. After you have inspected the package, would you please forward it to Ulm? Thank you.”
The letter, signed “A former American soldier,” was addressed to the Mayor of Ulm and explained that the coins were given to the writer by a fellow American solider, who had come across a display case containing the coins in a town museum, had impulsively smashed the glass of the case with his rifle butt, scooped up the coins, and taken them with him as his unit moved on. After hostilities had ended, he decided he no longer wanted the coins and had given them to the writer, who then modified them to be worn as pendants. He apologized for the damage caused to the coins, and wished them to be returned to the town of Ulm.
On Thursday, July 28, 2022, Foundation president Anna Bottinelli and senior researcher Dorothee Schneider travelled to Ulm, Germany, to hand over to the Museum Ulm the carved wooden sculpture of Albrecht Berblinger and the nine coins.
In a ceremony and press conference organized by the museum in one of its baroque halls, Bottinelli handed over the objects to the deputy director of the Museum Ulm Frau Dr. Eva Leistenschneider. In her remarks, Bottinelli emphasized that against the backdrop of some of the masterpieces still missing since WWII, these ten objects may seem of little importance. Their monetary value may be nominal. But the individual objects are not the only value. It is the message that events like this, where items are received back in gratitude, send to anybody who may have taken something during the war, something perhaps very valuable, to come forward and follow in the footsteps of Lieutenant Kunkle and other veterans and their heirs. Frau Dr. Leistenschneider thanked the Foundation for its important work and accepted the objects as a representative: "We are accepting the objects on behalf of the museums in Germany. If another museum can provide information which points to one of the pieces belonging to their collection, we will be happy to pass them on."
We are grateful to Frau Dr. Leistenschneider at the Museum Ulm for making this return possible, and to the Kunkle family for acting as trustees of this cultural asset.
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