|Perhaps there is no better way to appreciate the lore and history of
folding kayaks than to plan a visit to the newly inaugurated Klepper
Museum in Rosenheim Germany where Kleppers have been built for
almost a century. As you peer into cockpits of the dozens of boats on
display as well as looking at well laid out showcases of
memorabilia, you will find yourself so immersed in the story of this
special breed of vessel that you will feel as if a time traveler
back to a day when folding kayaks ruled the small boat recreation scene.
I was recently at the opening ceremonies as a guest of Dr.
Henning Isbruch, Klepper`s new owner, and his wife Frau Ursula
Isbruch, director of the Museum. When I arrived the museum staff was
still rushing to finish the displays in time and soon found myself
drafted into helping assemble a 72-year-old kayak, a labor of love,
believe me! I got a first hand tour of every boat from Markus
Heise, a Swiss German avid collector of folding kayaks who
contributed a number of the boats on display as well as from Albert
Schenk, another folding kayak enthusiast form Rosenheim who will
help explain the museum to visitors. Donations are urgently
requested, you find further info here".|
|The Klepper Museum is in one of the old buildings of the former Klepper
industrial complex in Rosenheim near the present factory. The company
at one time was the biggest industry in town. It employed some
3,000 workers at ist height. You really appreciate the size of the
workforce when you see photos of their cafeteria on display in the
museum. The operation was so large that the town built a high long
pedestrian bridge across the railroad marshalling yards an tracks to the
railroad station and the town center. The street in front is aptly
Klepper made more than just kayaks as you
also get to appreciate by looking at the display cases in the museum.
The company was known, widely for its raincoat, the Klepper mantel. The
name became generic for raincoats in Germany not unlike the use of
the word McIntosh for a certain kind of coat in Great Britain. The
Klepper coats clothed German postmen, policeman and other public
servants. Like other folding kayak companies, Klepper also made tents
and umbrellas; the basic principles for making these is the same as
for a folding kayak. The company also branched out to make motorboats
and sailboats and pop-up camping trailers. The museum is across the way
from the present location where Kleppers are now made. The display
floor is huge. I really had not expected such a grand expanse of kayaks .
There are 33 kayaks on display. Half of them have their original
skins on them. The oldest is the double 1929 Klepper Wanderzweier, that I
helped assemble and is pictured to the right. It is in immaculate
shape with a three-sail-rig. Ist hull is red as are the sails.
|Frames were very strong. Early ones tended to have solid gunwales where
Kleppers and similar boats such as current Folbots have I beam
construction with two rails spanned by intermittent panels. It was only
in mid 1930s that frames started having I-beam type gunwales, which the
Germans say as "T´s" and Klepper started naming models with a T-suffix
such as the T-5 in 1935. Frames in earlier days also tended to have
more longerons, the thin rods that run the length of the kayaks. This
trend continued into the 1950s. Some of the racing or slamon kayak had
so many longerons they resembled traditional skinon-frame kayaks. |
Most folding kayaks had a different way of attaching the cockpit part
of the skin to the cockpit coaming. The beaded hem of the skin in the
cockpit area was inserted into the side of the coaming instead of at the
top as it is in most folding kayaks today (exception: Folbots where
the bead goes into the bottom of the washboards, what Folbot calls the
coaming). Interestingly, the early Klepper Aerius had this feature
until about 1954 when the insertion switched to the top of the coaming.
Another interesting approach is seen in a 1960 LTB Stern slalom kayak
from the then East Germany. It had an integral coaming made of material
with a bicyle inner tube core that inflated. It looked like the
cockpit openings in the Klepper tuckunder spraydecks. A Pioneer
whitewater single of that same year had a coaming with gripping points
to hold a sprayskirt tightly.
|Folding kayaks could not help but reflect their times. Until the early
1930s, many were quite colorful such as that 1929 Klepper Wanderzweier
with its red hull. Then most companies switched to blue decks and gray
bottoms. Markus Heise theorizes that this was partly reflective of the
Nazi culture and its move to uniformity that shun non-conformity and
garishness. You see other signs of the times, for example, a pass a
kayaker needed in late 1939 in a Germany on a wartime footing. It had
the swastika seal and listed where he was paddling from point A to point
B on a certain river and exactly when. One boat on display shows a
sign of the post-WWII era. Its beam gunwale has some panels that show
evidence that they came from a CARE package box; plywood was scarce and
the boxes were a ready source. |
There is much more to see and
learn at the Kepper Museum. For example several models of the dedicated
sailboats in the Master series are on display. The display cases have
a wealth of information and wonderful photos. You see Captain Romer in
fornt of his Portugal hotel and the Klepper in which he crossed the
Atlantic in 1928. Repair kits are on display. One fascinating device
that I had never seen before was one to seal punctures in a canvas
deck. It is a simple device made of two cigarette pack sized pieces of
rubber-faced wood that screw together with a single bolt. Put the bolt
through the hole in the deck, screw the pieces of wood together on both
sides of the deck to form a watertight gasket sealing the hole or
|Wednesday, thursday, friday
||2 p.m. to 5 p.m.
||11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
|Sunday and ferial days
|Exhibition closed in winter (october until end of april) Groups (10 persons minimum) upon request.
| Specialization started creeping in after WW II in a variety of ways. The companies started introducing both whitewater and slalom racing kayaks. Before that whitewater generally was paddled in regular sporting kayaks pretty much like the touring models. The racing boats were sleeker with more longerons that were quite thin to keep weight down. Albert Schenk says that because of lightweight construction it is hard to find these racing kayaks in good condition since they suffered breakage more often.
|Other marketing realities can be seen in the models on display. Klepper was know as a top-of-the-line brand but were expensive to build and higher price. In order to compete, Klepper offered cheaper models to sell in the German equivalent of Sears type stores. They often used wingnuts where regular Kleppers had elegant fittings that were costly to make.