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Culture

Germans Claim Charles Lindbergh is Their Father

Three Germans have claimed American pilot Charles Lindbergh, the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic, is their father. Now, to prove their case, they have announced they will take DNA tests.

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The Germans who say Lindbergh is their father are said to look 'hauntingly familiar'

The car, an old, rusty VW beetle, stands close to the museum. A small information board next to it explains how the car's owner, Charles Lindbergh, used it to travel the world. Africa, Europe, the Middle East -- Lindbergh was, apart from a world-famous pilot, an enthusiastic driver. Two weeks ago, three Germans announced they, too, had spent time in that very same car with Charles Lindbergh -- who they now claim is their father.

The news came both as a surprise, both to the Lindbergh museum in Little Falls, Minnesota and Lindbergh's legitimate family in the United States. There, Lindbergh was married to writer Anne Morrow, with whom he had six children. The three Germans, Astrid Bouteil, Dyrk and David Hesshaimer who say Lindbergh is their father, claim the pilot also had a clandestine relationship with their mother, Brigitte Hessheimer from Munich, who he visited regularly under the pseudonym Careu Kent. They have now announced they want to take genetic tests to prove it.

Love letters in the attic

It all began back in the 1980s when the middle child, Astrid Bouteil, began investigating the life of the mysterious man she knew as her father, a man who would stay with the Hessheimers regularly but never for more than two weeks. In the family attic, Bouteil, who now lives in Paris, the city in which Lindbergh landed after traversing the Atlantic on his legendary solo flight, found 112 letters allegedly written by Lindbergh to her mother, Brigitte Hessheimer. On confronting her mother with the letters, Hessheimer was said to have burst into tears. The children promised to keep the secret until both their mother and Lindbergh's wife had deceased.

Bouteil and her two brothers support their case with pictures of Lindbergh and his second family in Munich and their own faces which bear a remarkable likeness to the pilot. All three insist they have no interest in Lindbergh's estate or legacy but that they only wish to set the record straight. "To discover your own identity is a fundamental desire of every person." Astrid Bouteil told the Süddeutsche Zeitung, which first reported on the case earlier this month. "Deep down everyone wants to know who their father is."

The three Germans say they spent little time with their father, but that the moments they had with him were particularly intensive. All three can remember details such as how Lindbergh wriggled his ears or his shoes, which were so big, that the children put puppets in them at night.

"Hauntingly familiar"

However, the Germans allegations have also been met with skepticism, in particular in the United States. Here, at least a dozen men have claimed in the past to be Lindbergh's first son, believed to have been murdered as a baby back in 1932. Marlene White, executive director of the Lindbergh Foundation, whose president is Lindbergh's daughter Reeve, told Stern magazine the family refused to comment. "It is not the first time that people claim Charles Lindbergh is their father".

But an American grandson of Lindbergh has said he thought it could be possible that the Germans were telling the truth as they looked so "hauntingly familiar." He has now declared he will take up the Germans' offer to go through with DNA tests, and will submit to one himself.

"I'm not speaking for the Lindbergh family but only for myself - I believe it is possible (they are the Lindbergh children)," Morgan Lindbergh, whose father Jon, was the second child of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh, told Reuters in a telephone interview.

A. Scott Berg, author of a prize-winning biography of Lindbergh, said the story was possible but unlikely. "I'm happy to believe that their mother told them Charles Lindbergh was their father," Berg said in an interview with Stern magazine. "I don't know anything about this woman's state. It certainly wasn't easy to raise three children in the 1950s without a father."

Ties to Goering

Lindbergh came to fame as the first person to fly alone across the Atlantic, from New York to Paris, in 1927. During the 33-hour-long flight, people across the world followed his trip on the radio, while the United States played the French national anthem on his arrival in Paris.

His widespread popularity was overshadowed by Lindbergh's pre-war sympathy for Nazi Germany and ties with Luftwaffe leader Hermann Goering, but he later changed his views and was largely rehabilitated.

Linbergh met Brigitte Hessheimer, a Munich hat maker, in 1957. Lindbergh allegedly spent up to two weeks three times a year in Munich until 1974. Weakened by cancer, Lindbergh's last visit was in 1973, one year before his death. "I'm losing strength every day", he wrote in his last letter to Hessheimer. "It's hard for me to write. My love to you and the children, all I can send."