The Lilienthal Window

Even after becoming a successful Berlin engineer, flying remained Otto Lilienthal’s passion. So it’s no wonder he did everything possible to make flying popular. There was a good reason why he hosted his extremely photogenic flight demonstrations in public – after all, they provided sensational stories for the regional and national press.

Lilienthal kept in contact with aviation pioneers and aeronautical engineers across the globe. He demonstrated his flying machines with passion and invited anyone who wanted to try them out. But also his lectures, publications and correspondence with specialists made the name Lilienthal internationally renowned.

Lilienthal was the trailblazer for modern aviation. And as terrible as it sounds: Otto's fatal accident heralded the birth of modern aviation and transformed him into a world-famous aviation pioneer. For his successors, Lilienthal was a giant on whose shoulders they could stand to achieve their own pioneering feats.

When the Wright brothers, Wilson and Orwill, achieved the first powered flight at the beginning of the 20th century, they explicitly referred to Otto Lilienthal’s life’s work. “He was the greatest of our predecessors,” they said, “the world is forever indebted to him.”

For many people his fatal accident made Lilienthal a martyr, who sacrificed himself in pursuit of man’s dream to fly. Otto Lilienthal himself saw the key to eternal peace on Earth in aviation. In fact, it is said that at his funeral, the priest drew a comparison between him and Icarus.

Over the course of the 20th century, many memorials were erected in Lilienthal’s honour. But sadly, it was not without political appropriations: The Nazis recognised the potential for propaganda that lay within Lilienthal’s achievements. They misused his name and put the phrase "sacrifices must be made" in his mouth.