2007’s historical kite conference and workshop was held in Wasserkuppe, Germany. An ideal setting for such study, Wasserkuppe’s barren hillside is the historic home of German gliding planes, and boasts a gliding plane museum that contains a good sampling of specimens from the history of gliding. Just yards from the museum, modern gliders are being pulled up into the sky hourly.
This historic setting was especially ideal for this conference and workshop, as the theme and workshop kite focuses on a man who himself worked on gliding planes at Wasserkuppe—German plane, automobile and kite designer Gottlob Espenlaub.
The conference started with a trip to the museum. Later that evening, Espenlaub’s daughter, Christa Espenlaub herself spoke about her father’s life and career, sharing personal photos of Espenlaub, his airplanes, cars, and his kites. A self-taught designer, Espenlaub worked on airplanes and gliding planes during the time between the first and second world wars, focusing on large box kites as anti-aircraft barrage during the second world war. During this time, Espenlaub created one of the first tailless planes and a rocket glider that was soon shelved due to several disasters.
After the rocket glider disaster, Espenlaub turned his attention to making streamlined, aerodynamic cars, creating some very strange looking automobiles. It wasn’t until later, after the second world war, that Espenlaub really focused on kites. They became the same type of obsession that airplanes, gliders and cars had before, and Espenlaub filled his vacation home in the Netherlands with large kites, using many for advertising his local church. This year’s workshop kite was modeled after one of these.
Espenlaub proved to be a very interesting gentleman, with varied interests, a tenacity to pursue his work, and deep convictions. At the end of the evening, Christa shared delight and surprise that a group of people would be so interested in the study of her father’s kites. Later in the weekend, workshop attendees voted to use the proceeds of the workshop’s annual raffle to help Christa Espenlaub stabilize and properly archive her father’s archive of kites and photographs; in turn, Christa will share these materials with historical kiters for future study.
The next evening’s presenter was Stefan Nitsche, who has been studying another personality featured in Wasserkuppe’s gliding museum—Otto Lilienthal. Nitsche has researched and constructed many of Liliethhal’s gliders and brought one of his reproductions for others to view. One could see many historical kite enthusiasts eyeing Nitsche’s glider, wanting to give it a try.
Other presenters included Dick Kortland and Jan Westernik, both of the Netherlands. Kortland spoke on Samuel Franklin Cody’s channel crossing and the possibility that the kite he used incorporated a steering system. Pointing to photographs of Cody in his boat with four lines trailing off, and using his own slightly modified Cody to show how this steering system would work, Kortland gave a very convincing point. Jan Westernik presented briefly a U.S. kite patent from the 1990s that he had found and reproduced. For military use, inexpensive and easy to put together, Westernik likened it to a modern Gibson Girl.
The workshop ended on a sunny afternoon with a kite fly, a first in the history of the long-running Historical Kite Conference. Special thanks goes to Falk Hilsenbek, along with Susanne Muller, Nicole and Michael von Rockenthein and Lothar Lautenbach for their endless hours of work in putting together this spectacular weekend.