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Who was Berblinger?

happy child playing

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 Tailor, inventor, husband, pilot... Who was Albrecht Ludwig Berblinger? What was it that drove him? Which image did he have in the township? And what are the lessons of his success and failure?

Berblinger Fluggerät

© Stadtarchiv Ulm

Nachbau von Berblingers Flugapparat im Lichthof des Ulmer Rathauses

Since 1810 the former imperial city of Ulm belonged to the Kingdom of Württemberg. A city with almost 12,000 inhabitants. The tradesmen belonged to one of the 17 guilds. Around 1811 the chronically overstaffed tailors' guild had 76 master craftsmen and 81 journeymen, some of them, couldn't effort their life.One guild member of a very special kind was the master tailor Albrecht Ludwig Berblinger.
He was born on June 24, 1770, the son of Albrecht Ludwig Berblinger and his wife Anna Dorothea, née Fink. He grew up in the extensive house of the "Zeughaus", where the bright boy was offered a varied and interesting range of illustrative material in the form of weapon collections, artistic devices and models. After his father's death in 1783 he was sent to an orphanage and finally had to start an apprenticeship as a tailor against his will. He did, however, just as brilliantly as the following journeyman time.
However, he completed this apprenticeship just as brilliantly as the subsequent journeyman's apprenticeship. After his master's examination in 1791 and his marriage to Anna Scheiffelin, he founded his own family. He was very successful in his profession, soon employed up to four journeymen.


© Stadtarchiv Ulm

Die Berblinger Skulptur an der Bahnhofstraße

Well-versed craftsman
However, the busy master tailor was neither fully occupied nor satisfied with the tailoring trade. He had a special interest in mechanics from his early youth and produced baby stroller and other vehicles from 1803 to 1807. In 1808 he began to manufacture prosthetic legs, which were convincing in form and function. After an application for support for this branch of production was rejected, he did not pursue this project any further.

The dream of flying
He saw an ideal in the Swiss Jakob Degen, who demonstrated his flying skills in Vienna in 1808, but also in other cities.Degen had constructed a flying machine whose circular, pointed wings could be moved with a lever mechanism. The wings were equipped with 3,500 flaps which opened or closed according to the upward or downward movement. Since Degen was aware that the machine could not be raised with muscle power, he had combined it with a balloon. Ever since the Montgolfier brothers ascended in a balloon in 1783, ballooning had been en vogue as a very special attraction.

The Berblinger principle
Berblinger chose a different approach than Degen: he did not want to fly up from the ground, but to glide down from the height. For this purpose, he built a flying machine with twelve square meters of wings of silk, strings and whalebone. His flying machine had no flaps and also no lever mechanism. According to what we know today, the two wings were connected in the back, which was firm, but also little flexible for steering. With the construction of this glider, Berblinger turned his attention to develope the gliding flight.


© Stadt Ulm

Flying high and crashing
On April 24, 1811, Berblinger published an advertisement in the Swabian Mercury, announcing the publicity of his flying machine. Before that he had made flight attempts at the "Michelsberg", where favourable winds prevailed. "He flew like a bird from garden house to garden house", an eyewitness said. What certainly looked funny, brought Berblinger the realization that the jump height and the achieved distance resulted in a glide ratio of 1:2.

On 27 May 1811 Berblinger announced the first public flight. This should be a highlight in the programm for the visit of the King of Württemberg. The location of the event on May 30, 1811 was the "Adlerbastei", 13 metres above the Danube, on which Berblinger had a seven-metre high wooden scaffold constructed, from where he wanted to cross the 40-metre wide river Danube. He was unaware of the prevailing winds over flowing waters, which eventually led to the fatal consequences.

On 30 May 1811, King Frederick appeared with a large entourage, and thousands of visitors. For reasons not known to us today, Berblinger postponed the flight attempt to the next day. The king left, but one day later the second attempt took place. Berblinger stood nervously on the scaffold - probably to feel the hoped-for upwind - and when he finally jumped, he landed in the Danube for the amusement of the spectators.


© Stadtarchiv Ulm

Historische Postkarte zu Berblingers Flugversuch

Berblinger, as a failed existence, belonged on the one hand to the circle of all those who fell victim of  the economic and social changes at the beginning of the 19th century and on the other hand was part of that knowledgeable world, which was scientifically oriented, well-read and thought and acted progressively. In public perception, Berblinger was seen as a odd fellow, ignoring his technical achievements and personal tragedy. In a mixture of secret admiration and malicious joy, he became the subject of scoffing poems and postcards as the "tailor of Ulm".
He also found his way into the world of music and theatre. Thus in 1866, the opera "Der Schneider von Ulm oder Der König der Lüfte" (The Tailor of Ulm or The King of the Air) composed by Gustav Pressel was performed with great success in Ulm and Stuttgart.