Theodor Lerner

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Theodor Eduard Julius Lerner (born April 10, 1866 in Antweiler , Ahr , † May 12, 1931 in Frankfurt am Main ) was a German journalist and polar explorer .

Childhood and youth

Theodor Lerner was born on April 10, 1866 in Antweiler an der Ahr as the son of the local mayor Julius Lerner and his wife Maria Magdalena, née Mengelbier. As a child he liked to play with his grandparents at Blankenheim Castle in the Eifel , in his own words a paradise for robber and gymnastics games. The father was elected mayor in Linz am Rhein in 1870 , where the son attended elementary school. Here he made deep friendships with Rhine boatmen and helmsmen, much to the displeasure of the teachers and educators . The Rhine increased his love for water. In winter he swam between ice floes. His great physical strength and swimming abilities once allowed him to rescue a drowning boy from the Rhine.

While attending grammar school in Düsseldorf , he acquired considerable knowledge of Latin and Greek . He enjoyed the singing, which he gladly let out with his baritone voice , especially since it usually drowned out everything else. Later, he cheered up the stranded and desperate tourists on the Île de France cruise ship with his singing.

Studies and first trips

In Würzburg he began studying law and became a member of the “Cimbria” fraternity . Then he continued his studies in Bonn with lectures in economics, medicine and law. He finished his studies without a degree, after which his father employed him as a volunteer in the Linz mayor's office. Since this gave him little pleasure, he went to Bremen to go to sea. As a purser assistant, he went to England, Spain and South America. This was followed by military service in Bremen as a one-year volunteer in the 75th Infantry Regiment. He lived in the USA for several years, initially as a journalist, later as a dishwasher and bottle washer, and finally as a brewery representative for the Würzburger Hofbräu . The return trip to Germany took place on a steamer as a coal trimmer, allegedly due to a bet. Lerner came into contact with the Arctic during subsequent trips on the Norwegian Vesteraalen Society's fishing steamers, which took him to Norway and Iceland.

Arctic travel

Map of Bear Island from the estate of Theodor Lerner

In a café in Hanover on the occasion of a military exercise, he first read in the newspaper in 1896 about the planned balloon flight of the Swede Salomon August Andrée . To witness this rise, he went to Norway, where director Witt of the Vesteraalen steam ship company hired him. With the small steamer Expres of this company, accompanied by several Englishmen, he visited Andrée. Since Andrée did not rise in 1896, the action was postponed to the next year. In 1897 he was again with Andrée and supported him in the rise. In 1898 Lerner led an expedition with the ship Helgoland to Spitzbergen and König-Karl-Land . This “ German expedition to the Northern Arctic Ocean ” was originally planned as a hunting trip, but was also intended to serve the - in vain - search for Andrée. With the participation of the zoologists Fritz Schaudinn and Fritz Römer , her character was ultimately more that of a scientific expedition, which produced remarkable results and gave rise to the publication of the multi-volume zoological work Fauna Arctica . In 1899 Lerner founded the German Bear Island Society with which he wanted to mine the coal deposits on Bear Island . But he was soon pushed out of the company by his partner, the shipping company Knöhr & Burchard . Lerner tried unsuccessfully to take possession of the Bear Island for the German Empire , with which he got his nickname “Nebelfürst” (Norwegian “Tåkefyrsten”). Unknowingly, he thwarted secret plans of the imperial government, which also consisted of creating a German Arctic colony with Bear Island.

On January 15, 1902, in Berlin, he married the poet Ilse von Stach , from whom he later divorced. From this marriage came his two sons Klaus (born September 12, 1902) and Thomas (born October 21, 1903). The older son Klaus emigrated to Peru in 1929, where he became known as an architect. He was followed by his brother Thomas in 1953 with his wife, the art historian Johanna, née Lehmkuhl, and their children Klaus and Carla.

In order to put his knowledge of Spitsbergen into financial use, in 1902 he had the idea of ​​founding a limited liability company for annual social expeditions to the polar region. He saw hunters, scientists and fur traders as possible interested parties.

He spent the summers of 1906 and 1907 again on Danskøya , this time to accompany the journeys of the steerable airship of the American Walter Wellman both journalistically and professionally. In August 1907 he rescued the stranded French tourist steamer Île de France . In autumn he got to know Hjalmar Johansen , Fridtjof Nansen's companion on his way to the North Pole. Lerner and Johansen spent the winter in a hut on Cape Boheman and then crossed the inland ice of West Spitzbergen on foot in a northerly direction.

Love and marriage with Lydia Stoltze

In the summer of 1908 when he returned to the island's coast, Lerner met Lydia Stoltze from Frankfurt (* July 21, 1873, † July 10, 1954). She was the youngest of eight children from the 9-year marriage of the poet Adolf Stoltze . Lydia Stoltze had taken a trip with the steamer Thalia of the Austrian Lloyd in August . On the spot she fell in love with the polar driver, who had come before her eyes in an adventurous state. The two became engaged immediately below the 80th parallel. The parents in Frankfurt were horrified. “The one and no other,” said Lydia Stoltze. Back in late summer, the caring father Adolf Stoltze took the polar driver, who was after all the son of the mayor of Linz am Rhein, to Sachsenhausen for cider . With the fourth bottle and many stories, the two gentlemen came closer. After the eighth bottle, the father accepted the new son-in-law. The couple married in February 1909. They initially lived in Charlottenburg near Berlin , Schlueterstrasse 76. In the summer of 1909, the couple wanted to go to Spitzbergen , where Lydia was the first woman in the world to spend the winter. She first went to Berlin for a few weeks to buy the equipment. But soon afterwards she sent a message home: "Hibernation abandoned - Theodor is planning a North Pole expedition with Zeppelin - Lydia". From June to December 1910 Lydia and Theodor Lerner lived in Norway. From 1911 the Lerners lived in Frankfurt, where their daughter Luise was born in autumn.

Parseval and Zeppelin

In autumn 1908, the airship builder August von Parseval had the idea of ​​building a pole airship. There was an exchange of ideas and cooperation with Lerner on this matter. On May 25, 1909, the International Aviation Exhibition was opened in Frankfurt am Main . On that day Lerner, recommended by Hugo Hergesell , told Count Zeppelin about his idea of ​​a pole flight. Zeppelin was interested. Thereupon Lerner dissolved his contract with Parseval in July 1909, which was serving similar goals. Theodor Lerner became General Secretary of the German Arctic Airship Expedition under Zeppelin. In the spring of 1910, Zeppelin Lerner announced his release. He, Zeppelin, had heard from various quarters reports about Learner's past, in which there was talk of learner's dishonorable actions. Lerner demanded that the names of the slanderer be disclosed. Zeppelin refused. There was a duel between Zeppelin and Lerner. Lerner accepted. An honorary commission clarified the matter and found that Lerner had been wronged. Zeppelin pleaded guilty, whereupon Lerner withdrew his claim. Zeppelin would have been legally obliged to take Lerner with him on an expedition.

In the summer of 1910, Count Ferdinand Zeppelin went on an expedition to Spitzbergen to investigate a possible pole flight. The ship of the trip was the Lloyd steamer Mainz under Captain Max Dietrich (born November 27, 1870 Angermünde, † November 27, 1916 Hartlepool). Other participants on the trip were Prince Heinrich of Prussia , the pioneer of color photography Adolf Miethe and the polar explorer Erich von Drygalski . Among other things, the Wellman hangar in Danskøya was inspected. On site, of course, the participants of the trip came to the opinion that the pole could not be reached with the zeppelin.

In the summer of 1913 Lerner led his own expedition to rescue Lieutenant Herbert Schröder-Stranz and his people. Members of this rescue operation were the skier and medical student Bernhard Villinger as well as the well-known cameraman Sepp Allgeier , who documented the events in the film With the camera in the eternal ice .

war and peace

At the beginning of the First World War, Lerner was a Landwehr officer's deputy sergeant in the trenches in front of Toul and in the Argonne Forest. In November of that year he was with the 81st Infantry Regiment in the front line of fire in the Priesterwald. Due to great personal bravery, he was promoted to lieutenant and leader of the 3rd company. In December he was awarded the Iron Cross 2nd Class. In February 1915, Lerner had a model trench built near the festival hall in Frankfurt, equipped with toe rods , barbed wire and Spanish riders . For an entrance fee, this facility was open to the interested Frankfurt public. In November 1918, Lerner returned to his family.

He became a member of the Frankfurt Warrior Comradeship and was politically close to the German National People's Party , which he also supported financially in 1924.

In 1926, together with Russian authorities, he planned a flying boat expedition with Dornier flying boats . During the planning, however, he became seriously ill with the heart, so he gave up the plan.

Theodor Lerner died at the age of 65 two days after a stroke on May 12, 1931 at Grüneburgweg 95. He was busy writing down his 25 years of polar driving activity in his book Im Banne der Arktis when he died. His grave is in the main cemetery to the left of the old main portal. He had made seven polar trips.

The Lernerøyane archipelago in Liefdefjorden and the nearby Lernerbreen glacier as well as the cape Lernerneset on the island of Abeløya , King Karl Land , in Svalbard were named after Lerner. On Bear Island, the Lernervegen, a path from Kvalrossbukta (“Walrus Bay”) to Sørhamna (“South Harbor”), reminds of him.

Works (selection)

  • Theodor Lerner: Under the spell of the Arctic . Published by Frank Berger, Oesch Verlag, Zurich 2005. ISBN 3-0350-2014-0


  • Lydia Lerner-Stoltze (arrangement by Luise Bodensohn): Adolf Stoltze. A poet's life for Frankfurt . W. Kramer, Frankfurt am Main 1983
  • Eckart G. Franz: Hessian discoverers. Research trips in five continents . Exhibition catalog Darmstadt 1981, p. 36 (Lerner), p. 32–35 (Weyprecht).
  • Tilmann Spreckelsen: The Fog Prince . In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung , January 22, 2006, pp. 68–69
  • 1100 years of Linz on the Rhine . Commemorative publication 1974
  • Paul Herrmann: Dreaming, daring and accomplishing . 1959
  • Vitalis Pantenburg : lakeside roads through the big ice . 1976
  • Hans-Otto Meissner : In the magic of the northern lights. Travel and adventure in the Arctic Circle . 1973
  • Bernhard Villinger : The Arctic is calling . 1929
  • Fridtjof Nansen: Spitzbergen . 1922
  • Willi K. Michels: Arctic course . 1976
  • Per Olof Sundman : Engineer Andrées Aviation . 1982
  • Martin Mosebach : The Fog Prince . Frankfurt am Main 2001. ISBN 3-423-13119-5
  • Frank Berger: Frankfurt and the North Pole. Researchers and explorers in the eternal ice . In: Jan Gerchow (Ed.): Writings of the Historisches Museum Frankfurt am Main . tape 26 . Michael Imhof Verlag, Petersberg 2007, ISBN 978-3-86568-285-7 , p. 123-153 .
  • Frank Berger: Profit on Svalbard? Theodor Lerner's plans for tourism and mining . In: Cornelia Lüdecke, Kurt Brunner (Ed.): From A (ltenburg) to Z (eppelin). German research on Spitzbergen until 1914. 100 years of the expedition of Duke Ernst II of Saxony-Altenburg (PDF; 31.8 MB). Neubiberg 2012 (= series of publications by the Institute for Geodesy , issue 88), pp. 93–98.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Fritz Römer and Fritz Schaudinn: Fauna Arctica. A compilation of the Arctic animal forms with special consideration of the Svalbard area based on the results of the German expedition to the northern Arctic Ocean in 1898 . Gustav Fischer, Jena 1900
  2. Stefan Przigoda: Mining on Bear Island? German interest in raw materials and the exploration of Svalbard (1871–1914) . In: Cornelia Lüdecke, Kurt Brunner (Ed.): From A (ltenburg) to Z (eppelin). German research on Spitzbergen until 1914. 100 years of the expedition of Duke Ernst II of Saxony-Altenburg , Neubiberg 2012 (= series of publications by the Institute for Geodesy , issue 88), pp. 77–91.
  3. Klaus Barthelmess: Bäreninsel 1998 and 1899: How Theodor Lerner unknowingly thwarted a secret mission of the German Sea Fisheries Association to create a German Arctic colony . In: Polarforschung 78, 2009, pp. 67–71.
  4. Lydia Lerner-Stoltze (arrangement by Luise Bodensohn): Adolf Stoltze. A poet's life for Frankfurt , W. Kramer, Frankfurt am Main 1983, p. 245
  5. Lydia Lerner-Stoltze (arrangement by Luise Bodensohn): Adolf Stoltze. A poet's life for Frankfurt , W. Kramer, Frankfurt am Main 1983, p. 246
  6. Hans Steinhagen : Researcher, adventurer, rescuer - the Spitzbergen expeditions by Kurt Wegener, Herbert Schröder-Stranz and Theodor Lerner 1912/1913 . In: Cornelia Lüdecke, Kurt Brunner (Ed.): From A (ltenburg) to Z (eppelin). German research on Spitzbergen until 1914. 100 years of the expedition of Duke Ernst II of Saxony-Altenburg , Neubiberg 2012 ( series of publications by the Institute for Geodesy of the University of the Federal Armed Forces, Munich 88), pp. 47–58.