(Editorial Note: One of the fascinating people we met in Kulmbach is Andreas Barz. He took part in building the world’s largest flat figure diorama. The article below original appeared in the British Flat Figure Journal 1996. If you don’t subscribe, check it out. Andreas gave me permission to republish it here. He also sent me a dozen or more photos of the project as a “work in progress.” Andreas sent me a pdf file of the article. I retyped it for the purposes of this post. Any errors are mine, not his. The diorama also appears in the Guinness Book of World Records. Andreas has an MA in Art History.)
Those of you who will be visiting the Tin Figure Museum at the Plassenburg in the future will be surprised by its new attraction: The World’s Largest Flat Figure Diorama, completed on June 8th 1996!
Until then, The Bavarian Army Museum at Ingolstadt held this honor with ‘The Battle of Leuthen, 1757’ comprising some 17,000 figures. Now, covering approximately 40 square metres, 19,385 tin figures fight ‘The Battle of Kulmbach’, an even which took place on November 26th 1553.
This diorama was a gift of the Rotary Club, Kulmbach on the occasion of its 30th anniversary. On May 17th 1995 the Rotary Club generously donated 80,000 DM/Deutsche Mark (i.e. 40.000 €/Euros) to the City of Kulmbach and its museum with the request to “create something unique”. The ideas was born to build the world’s largest flat figure diorama and, moreover, to have it finished by June 8th 1996—the day the Rotary Club would celebrate its 30th anniversary. So, on behalf of Dr. Mössner (director of the Tin Figure Museum) four Franconian collectors set to work at the end of May 1995, with only 12 months to re-create the blackest day in the history of the City of Kulmbach—November 26th 1553, the so-called ‘Conrad’s Day’. My dear friend Mike Taylor needs 12 months to paint just 20 of his breath-taking figures! Would the deadline be met?
Collectors who visited the old Tin Figure Museum before its removal in May 1992 may remember a small diorama called “The Siege of Kulmbach 1553” (approx. 8 sq. metres with 1,675 figures) built by Hein Pfitzner, Alfred Wurzbacher and Hellmuth Petermann in the early 60s. This diorama was the starting point, as all the figures and buildings from it were used. Then, searching through the museum’s fund brought approximately 5,000 more figures which could be used, after some minor restoration or painting work. A search was also made at the 1995 Börse for painted figures from the estates of late collectors. But this was still not enough and finally a total of 12,000 figures had to be ordered. Scholtz of Berlin supplied 10,000 of these painted in a dry-brush technique, especially created for the project. New walls, towers and building has to then be constructed to enlarge the city of the old diorama and by the end of February 1996 all was ready.
The assembly began during early March, with our four man crew comprising Franz Winkler of Gerolzhofen, Gerald Hanel of Gochsheim, Robert Kügl of Weingarten and myself from Würzburg, (the same four which were part of the crew that managed the museum’s removal in 1992). First the background was erected, painted and airbrushed, showing a cloudy November sky. To build the landscape a light wooden substructure was covered with fine mesh wire and layers of plaster bangs (thanks to the city hospital of Kulmbach for its generous supply!). This substructure consists of wooden tables (2 sq. metres each) on rollers which allows access to any point of the diorama, at any time, for restoration work if necessary. After the landscape was modeled and painted, buildings and figures were added. The whole landscape was finally completed by adding lots of powders (soil, grass and snow) and all segments were put together like a giant puzzle. The assembly itself took three weeks (including weekends) starting the day’s work at 8 am and finishing at 10:30 pm. Finally, on April 28th 1996, the world largest diorama was finished!
The showcase and lighting were made and paid for by the City of Kulmbach in May at the cost of 20,000 DM. The showcase is quite unusual in that it represents a 16th century military officer’s tent.
Conrad’s Day/November 26th 1553
Due to the Reformation in the mid 16th century, Germany was a patch of territories ruled by Catholics and Protestants, who fought each other. Against this background Margrave Albrecht of Hohenzollern-Kulmbach (nicknamed Alcibiades due to his behavior) fought his won special war for a united Franconia which became known as ‘Bundesständischer Krieg’ or “Margrave’s War’. His striving for a united Franconia meant a permanent threat to his neighbors and especially to the Franconia Bishoprics of Würzburg and Bamberg, not to mention the imperial City of Nürnberg.
After a series of battles a Catholic-Protestant coalition surrounded Albrecht’s capital Kulmbach, while he himself was trapped in Schweinfurt, besieged by enemies. The Siege of Kulmbach began on November 20th 1553. The coalition army under the supreme command of henry, Duke of Brunswick, comprised the troops of Zobel, Prince-Bishop of Würzberg; of Weigand von Redwitz, bishop of Bamberg; of Moritz, Duke of Saxony; of the Imperial City of Nürnberg; of Ferdinand, King of Bohemia and Hunbary, brother of the German Emperor Karl V; as well as Henry’s own troops.
Two eye-witness reports of what happened during those November days survive today.
On November 20th the siege and bombardment began but due to Kulmbach’s strong city walls caused only minor damage which was repaired by the defenders at night. The bombardment continued and on Saturday the 25th some citizens succeeded in escaping into the Plassenburg. The attack was intensified on Sunday. A breach was made and the citizens turned to escape. On the instructions of Colonel von Brandstein, the defender of Kulmbach, the city was set on fire. The attackers entered the city and began to loot and massacre. 90% of Kulmbach’s population (approx. 5,500 people) lost their lives in that fight. The city was totally destroyed by the fire; only a single house withstanding the catastrophe. The Plassenburg withstood the bombardment but, as a consequence of the war, was destroyed by the coalition in 1554.
Between 1559 and 1585 the Plassenburg was built anew in the form we know it today. Kulmbach too, was rebuilt, for stronger than death and destruction was the city’s will to live.
The photos below were provided by Andreas Barz.
Below is a photo of the Plassenburg Castle from the village:
Below is a photo of the village from the Plassenburg:
Here is a photo of Franz Winker and Andreas Barz pointing out some things of interest to Greg DiFranco and friends from the British Flat Figure Society, from the entrance to the Plassenburg:
Below is a brief video of the village from the Plassenburg:
If you want to imagine the size of the Castle, consider the size of the people at the end of the video in comparison to the outer wall.