Lufthansa captain Robert Löffler is a passionate collector and has miniature aircraft in every – really every – possible shape and color!
The man in the pilot uniform picks up the red plastic airplane with the tiny propeller and the short wings, winds it up, sets it on the floor, and lets go. It zigzags wildly across the tiles, even performing somersaults and back flips. Robert Löffler, a distinguished airline captain with four golden stripes on his sleeve, laughs out loud and slaps his thighs in boyish delight.
Flashback: Robert Löffler was born in 1955 and raised in Kulmbach, in Germany’s Upper Franconia region, near to the East German border. One day, he was lying in a meadow, looking up at the sky, watching planes come and go overhead. “There wasn’t much else going on in my town,” he recalls. So he dreamed about the planes that traced white lines across the blue before vanishing. One such lazy day, young Robert decided to become a pilot. He obtained his private pilot’s license even before learning to drive a car. In 1974, he passed the Lufthansa exam and has since notched up more than 20 000 flying hours.
In front of Löffler now on the big dining table in his living room in Frankfurt lie the objects of another passion, all carefully set out: a winged alarm clock and winged cufflinks; picture frames and reading lamps with propellers; key rings and brooches in the shape of a Boeing; stamps and egg cups with landing gears; candlesticks, piggy banks, penknives. In fact, almost everything has a connection to flying or is adorned with aircraft. “It all started with these bookends,” he says, pointing to the shelf holding a fluffy porcelain cloud, split into two, with a small propeller plane plunging through it. There’s a giraffe in the cockpit and a hippo sitting on the tail. The piece cost 30 dollars when he bought it back in 1980 at Pier 39 in San Francisco, Robert Löffler recalls. It’s still his favorite piece.
Löffler gives us a tour, pointing out the highlights: the Martini glass with a single-engine plane on the stem that he picked up in Vancouver; the teapot in British racing green from Harrods; the pink jet with gold accents and pictures of the Vatican that’s really an ashtray… Crazy stuff. “People often make fun of my hobby,” says Löffler dismissively. For him, a man with a PhD in historical science, it’s far more than a collection of knick-knacks and curiosities. “To me, it’s an expression of people’s historical response to aviation, of what they see and have seen in flying.”
The collection is an expression of people’s historical response to aviation
Everyday objects, curious and useful things, kitsch – over the years, a lot has come together. Take the Christmas decorations, for instance: a rainbow-colored jumbo jet with palms on the bodywork that hangs on the Christmas tree each year, and all of the traditional German articles sold at the Käthe Wohlfahrt Christmas store in Rothenburg ob der Tauber created solely for the purpose of spreading Christmas cheer. The smoking manikin chick with aviator glasses that comes out every year before Christmas is “very important” to Löffler. His latest acquisition is a reindeer in a blue airplane; clap, and it flashes a crazy, mixed-up red and green and white, and while the propeller spins faster and faster, tiny LED lamps tirelessly wish a “Merry Christmas.” Even now, months after the holiday is over, this masterpiece is still standing on the bookshelf. Over time, Löffler tells us, even friends and family started helping him to collect. Instead of shirts, ties and socks, they now give him dainty Limoges porcelain jewelry boxes with teddies in the pilot seat, USB airplanes with slots in the propeller positions or cuddly cushions shaped like fighter jets. So far, Löffller tells us, he has spent a four-digit sum (euros) on his collection. He never buys things on eBay. Instead, Löffler, 63, prefers to browse flea and antiques markets all over the world and scour souvenir and gift shops. And he always considers carefully before he buys anything. “Just because something is old, it doesn’t mean I have to have it. It has to be a bit unusual – and best of all, somehow have something useful about it.” He has only very few scale model aircraft because “they just stand around gathering dust.”
Löffler’s collection now numbers 150 pieces, maybe more. And there’s a special memory associated with each one. He still clearly remembers how the china plane with Micky and Minnie Mouse caught his eye a few hours before he was due to fly home from Toronto. He even had to figure out which T-shirts he should leave behind to make space in his case. The captain and collector brings out his Coca-Cola aquaplane from Florida. It reminds him of the modified light aircraft Piper Cub, with which he sometimes flies before plowing himself a runway – splish, splash – on a lake. He talks about the teapot from Stockholm with the badly fitting lid, for which he had himself detailed to the next flight to the Swedish capital. You could sit for hours, days even, listening to one story after another.
Löffler would love to compile a catalogue of his collection and exhibit it, but to him, it isn’t yet complete. There’s a model of the legendary Ju 52 propeller plane in a store window at the Main-Taunus-Center that he would really like to get his hands on, and he is also still looking to replace the Swarowski plane that fell on the floor and shattered. But the most important piece that’s still missing is a plane with a woman in the cockpit: “The history of aviation would not be complete without it.”