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TODAY IN BERLIN: GIANTS IN THE SKY

#OTD, June 23 1930, two flying giants, the magnificent airship LZ127 also known as “Graf Zeppelin” and the then largest transport aircraft worldwide, the 1929 Junkers G38, both arrived and landed at the airfield in Berlin-Staaken.

LZ 127 landing after its circumnavigation of the world in 1929 (photo by Alexander Cohrs).

The Junkers machine, with a Series No. D2000, was one of only two such aircraft ever built: completed in 1929, it was bought by German “Luftfahrtministerium” (Ministry for Aviation) for testing and later used by Lufthansa for regular flights Berlin-London.

The airship – or “zeppelin” – was equally impressive. Built in 1928, this hydrogen-filled rigid “flying cigar” would become the first machine of this sort to complete the first world circumnavigation.

Not surprisingly, both the airship and the winged Junkers transporter held multiple records.

Junkers G38 D-2000 in Meyers-Blitz-Lexikon

The June 1930 visit was not without its comical moments: like the sudden silence which welcomed the arrival of the airship. Although already over Berlin, the machine which arrived too early, was forced to fly to Copenhagen to kill the time and follow the initial schedule. But when it reached Berlin-Staaken again, the orchestra failed to play the agreed tune.

While the crowds kept calling for the “Deutschlandlied” (the national anthem), the musician stood there confused and visible upset – they had been told “Deutschlandlied” would not be performed until after the speech held by Berlin’s Mayor, Scholtz. It was a massive “acid hole in the conversation” moment for everyone involved.

But the situation was to get even more awkward soon. LZ127 started again at 9 AM on its planned short visit to Hamburg. the machine was supposed to return to Berlin later in the afternoon. And it did. However without two of the captains it originally had on board but with several frightened as completely unintentional stowaways.

LZ127 being held down before starting in 1928 (image via Bundesarchiv, 102-06793 CC-BY-SA 3.0)

What happened was that while still in Hamburg the zeppelin whose crew were not all yet on board, began suddenly to ascend: filled with hydrogen and hard to manoeuvre without plenty of holding down and pulling, airships used to be fiendishly difficult to control.

All of a sudden, the airship’s heck began to rise, reaching the angle of 45° and several policemen employed to help pull the zeppelin’s ropes to keep it tamed found themselves being lifted up in the air. Some of them failed to let go of the said ropes on time and were forced to climb up and into the zeppelin’s gondola. Unable to land again, the machine took the course south-east, heading back for Berlin – where a couple of hours later two captains, Lehmann and von Schiller, arrived, too. By train. Their zeppelin took off in Hamburg without them.

The “Berliner Volkszeitung” of June 23, 1930 reporting the visit.

Both “Graf Zeppelin” and Junkers G38 D2000 were absolute highlights that many pilgrimed to see. From 7 PM until 9 PM that day all owners of 2-Mark tickets were supposed to be able to enter the runway and approach the machines to inspect them from up close. But then the third calamity of the day struck: after an impromptu decision to allow 500 participants of Berlin’s World Energy Conference – it took place in Germany’s capital at the time – to go first, all other visitors (and those were far more many that 500) had to wait. Until 10.30 PM. Needless to say, the visitors were not amused.

Yet despite those small difficulties and perhaps not the best organisation (an unusual complaint about big Berlin events at the time), thousands of people for ever remembered the moment when they looked up, only to see a 236-metre airship followed by a four-engine giant float past them in the sky.

This short British Pathe and Luce films show how magnificent these two machines were:

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