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20 November 2015 | News
Funck had not been drafted during the war as he had been studying. Instead, the German government tasked him with finding alternatives to dwindling stocks of diesel and petrol. Funck also had knowledge of precision-engineering techniques. This left him in a curious and uniquely-advantageous position in post-war Germany:
1) He was a Luxembourg passport-holder and so free of the restrictions on trading which were imposed on German citizens by the occupying Allied powers
2) He had a deep understanding of plastics, a new field and one not widely-understood
3) He had a knowledge of machinery and engineering techniques
On noticing Maertens’s prototype boots, Funck put his considerable intellect into motion and set about thinking how to make them a mass-produced reality. He suggested that he and Maertens go into partnership together with this in mind, and Maertens agreed. Footwear at this time was not made with soft soles, so a soft, air-cushioned sole was revolutionary. Thus the shock-absorbing sole was born.
There was a problem, however: directly resulting from the time and the place that Maertens and Funck found themselves in. Namely, a lack of materials for developing and manufacturing the new footwear technology. Post-war Germany, under occupation from the four victorious Allied powers of Britain, France, the United States and the Soviet Union, was bombed-out and exhausted. Tens of thousands were dead or displaced, law and order was threadbare and inconsistent, and everyday items such as foodstuffs were hard to obtain, let alone the leathers and chemicals needed to perfect the air-cushioned sole that Maertens had invented while convalescing with a broken foot.
A solution presented itself in the form of a nearby US airbase. Munich, and all of Bavaria, were in the United States Occupation Zone, and a nearby base of the United States Air Force was filled with ruined American warplanes. With his Luxembourger citizenship, Funck was allowed to trade with the Allies (as Luxembourg was a German-occupied state during the war and so was not counted as a defeated enemy by the Allies, as were Germany and Austria). Thus, he went to the Americans at the airbase outside Munich and offered to take away various items such as aluminium, rubber, wiring insulation, and suchlike. The Americans readily agreed, allowing Funck to have the materials at rock-bottom prices, as they were pleased to get rid of items which they considered to be junk.
Funck took away three wagon-loads of these materials, and this stash kept the partners in manufacturing supplies for the next five years. Here, the “honeycomb” design of the air-cushioned sole was beneficial, not only for the shock-absorption it provided, but because it used fewer materials than a solid sole would have.
The new sole was named the “Dr Maertens Luftposter-Sohle”. Funck’s engineering company was not only involved with shoe manufacture, but also with producing street signs in German and English, cookers, electronic devices, speakers and even swings for children’s play areas. Funck had a finger in many pies.
Once Funck had constructed a more professional prototype than Maertens’s original, the two friends and partners sold some pairs at a local auction. They proved so popular and fetched such good prices that the partners knew that they were on to a good - and commercially-viable – idea. In 1947, the two began handmade production in the town of Seeshaupt. The timing couldn’t have been better – the continent had been at war for six years and most people were aware of how uncomfortable army boots were. Comfortable footwear with a cushioned sole was a great luxury and became available at the perfect time.
End of Part 2 – CLICK FOR PART 3
Posted by Mike Small.