Otto und Gustav Lilienthal im Jahr nach dem Tod des Vaters. Regis A., Fotografie, 1862

Otto und Gustav Lilienthal


If one believes the folklore, an animal fable triggered the Lilienthal brothers' dream of flying. The stork, who explains to a wren how effortlessly he can fly with his outstretched wings, encourages the children to try themselves. They build their own wings from beechwood boards to imitate the birds. Their failures only fuel their ambition more and over the years their studies and designs for "flying machines" become more sophisticated. Curiosity and enthusiasm unite the pair of brothers, who inherited the disposition for dreaming, their artistic talent, and an interest in technology from their parents.

Geburtshaus Otto und Gustav Lilienthals
The residential and business premises of the Lilienthal family (birthplace of Otto and Gustav Lilienthal) at 8 Peene Street, in the immediate vicinity of the St. Nicholas Church. Photograph post 1910
Wohnhaus der Familie Lilienthal, 1852 bis 1864, Fotografie, Gerhard Halle
The Lilienthal family residence, 1852 to 1864, photograph, Gerhard Halle, before 1945Otto Lilienthal is four years old when his family is forced to move from his birthplace to a smaller house in 35 Peene Street. Here Otto and Gustav spend the rest of their childhood. They had a bicycle taxi in the yard, a wing flapping contraption hung in the attic and Otto and Gustav Lilienthal started their first flight attempt from the first floor of the building. These adventures and experiments are made possible by their mother, who, after the death of her husband, always strived to give free rein to the scientific curiosity of her children: "How often have important artistic talents been nipped in the bud," writes Caroline Lilienthal, "how often is the divine spark of great research, wonderful inventions and revolutions quenched by this senseless reluctance just when they begin to glow."Caroline Lilienthal lives in this house until her death. It has been preserved to this day.
Scherenschnitt von Otto Lilienthal, gesammelt von Caroline Lilienthal.
Silhouette cut out by Otto Lilienthal, collected by Caroline Lilienthal.

At school, Otto and Gustav Lilienthal follow their affinities, but do not perform well in the eyes of their teachers. Otto only stands out in the Arts and Mathematics. Initially, it is Otto who is considered to be the "artist" in the Lilienthal family, but over time the relationship is reversed. Gustav develops his artistic abilities, while Otto pursues his passion for technology. Otto studies mechanical engineering at the Berlin Business Academy, Gustav follows him and enrols at the Building Academy.

Ansicht von Anklam, Zeichnung von Otto Lilienthal, 1865
View of Anklam, drawing by Otto Lilienthal, 1865
Bluthslust, Zeichnung der Anklamer Parkanalge von Gustav Lilienthal, um 1865
"Bluthslust," drawing of the Anklam Park house by Gustav Lilienthal, circa 1865
Pedal carriageEven as schoolboys, Otto and Gustav show their inventive spirit. In 1866 they build a pedal carriage that can carry a passenger, who has to contribute to the propulsion of the vehicle. Later on, during their student time, the brothers demonstrated the pedal bike in Berlin: "Of course, it wasn’t a pleasure," writes Gustav Lilienthal in retrospect, "to ride along the badly paved roads, especially Chaussee Street, without suspension. We felt the shock all the way to our fingertips."Pedal carriage of the Lilienthal brothers, model 1:10, made by Harald Serowski, 1991, after a sketch by Gustav Lilienthal, circa 1920
Gesellenprüfung Maurerlehre
Gustav Lilienthal's career as an architect, master builder and founder of settlements begins with an apprenticeship as a bricklayer: On 15 October 1868, his completed training is confirmed by the Examination Commission of the Bricklayers' Trade in Anklam. In addition to aeronautics, art, and education, he will also remain faithful to this craft with various inventions until his old age.