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Culture

Desire to fly binds all cultures, Berlin exhibition shows

Airplanes were developed in the US just over a century ago. But the dream of taking off and flying through the air is an ancient wish, according to an exhibition in Berlin.

Yves Rossy Jetman

Who hasn't dreamt of doing this?

Humans are the only creatures that manage to sit in relatively comfortable seats while flying over the clouds. This is thanks to aviation technology, which was developed at the start of the 20th century.

Finding a way to take off from the ground accomplished one of humankind's greatest dreams, according to Bernd Scherer, director of the Haus der Kulturen der Welt - a center for the contemporary arts in Berlin that is currently hosting an exhibition entitled "The Art of Flying."

"Development theories have insinuated that other societies and other cultures should all move towards where the West already is," said Scherer. "But this exhibition shows that flying, for example, is just one of many possibilities to achieve the dream."

In other words, other societies have dreamt the same dream - to defy gravity - in different ways.

A photograph of a man with artificial wings, seen in the Art of Flying exhibition at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin

Some people are willing to try anything to get off the ground

Flight is older than you think

The American brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright are credited with having made the first powered passenger flight on December 17, 1903, giving birth to what would become a massive international air travel industry.

But all over the world, and throughout history, there have been people who just have one goal in mind: to mimic a bird and view the earth from above, said exhibition curators Thomas Hauschild and Britta Heinrich.

Even in ancient times, humans gained basic aerodynamic knowledge by throwing objects like stones and boomerangs and observing birds. Siberian shamans created the sensation of floating by using various drugs to distort the sense of balance. As early as 1631, Hauschild pointed out, one brave Turkish man became the first human to fly when he crossed the Bosporus Strait using a homemade apparatus.

"Back then, the Ottoman Empire was very powerful," Hauschild said. "Germany was in tatters and the Thirty Years War was going on. That shows how fast intelligence and technical development can happen in different regions of the world."

In the sky-blue exhibition hall, visitors get to know the pioneers of aviation - gazing down from drawings and paintings - as well as their various instruments. There are also items such as spoons from the dining room of a zeppelin and pilots' boots and helmets. Prehistoric axes, witches on broomsticks and religious imagery offer a different perspective on flight.

There's also a Chinese scroll painting that, according to the instructions, can be "floated into." The idea of being able to "disappear in the picture and step out of the real world" has been a fascination in China for millennia, said Hauschild.

Painting by Andy Hope 1930, Epic Imperial, the Long Tomorrow, 2003

The dream of taking flight inspires people across the world

The future is uncertain

In the exhibition itself, it's only possible to get off the ground via your imagination, but there are distortion glasses available to confuse visitors' senses like a shamanic libation would. In one room, artist Thomas Hitzel tells stories about flying to stimulate the mind's eye.

Director Bernd Scherer said the exhibition doesn't provide any concrete predictions for the future. "But what the exhibition does say, is that even when the airplane flight as we know it is no longer possible, being human will still be possible."

Author: Silke Bartlick / ew

Editor: Kate Bowen

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