THE GIANT ON THE LAKE: DORNIER DO X AT THE MÜGGELSEE

There are events in the history of Berlin that are simply unforgettable – some of them disturbing and some remembered with joy. We all know the former but might not be aware of many of the latter. Here, therefore, a short snippet from a June day in 1932 that no-one who experienced it first-hand would ever forget. And many made it to the Müggelsee.

Dornier Do X” taking off for its first flight to the USA in November 1930. the machine could reach the speed of 200 km/h. (image via Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-10659).

On this day in 1932 the largest Flugschiff (flying boat) in the world, the magnificent Dornier DO X, which landed on the lake a week before, saw nearly ten thousand visitors – or rather, the visitors saw the DO X. From up close and inside. A rare privilege made available to excited Berliners and guests from Brandenburg on June 1. the twelve-engine giant docked before a popular lake café, “Rübezahl” (it still exists albeit in a new form).

For the price of 50 Pfennig (10 Pfennig for school children groups accompanied by a teacher and for students from Monday to Friday) curious crowds could admire the wonder of German engineering from 9 AM until 8 PM on weekdays and from 8 AM until 8 PM at weekends. Twelve hours might sound like a lot but do consider: on the very first day as many as 9,000 people walked down the thirty-metre wooden pier built between the lakeshore at “Rübezahl” and the side of Dornier DO X.

Dornier DO X and its visitors on the Müggelsee in June 1932. (Photo by Charlotte Krause, collection of Deutsches Historisches Museum Berlin).

One day later that number grew to 11,000 and the small, enchanting and rather quiet Berlin locality of Friedrichshagen, with the S-Bahnhof used by most guests on their way to the Müggelsee, filled up with never-seen masses of people. All of them headed for the Spreetunnel, the pedestrian tunnel under the section of the river Spree right where it leaves the lake on its way towards the city centre.

By June 3 it became clear that the situation had got out of control and that the numbers of arriving DO X aficionados needed to be reduced. After a life-threatening incident on the makeshift pier that morning, school-groups got a temporary ban on touring the machine and those who had been planning to visit DO X on Sunday were asked to re-consider. They would most likely be waiting in vain. In order to relieve Friedrichshagen, a special bus-line No. 27 was opened between S-Bahnhof Köpenick and Müggelheim with a stop next to the “Rübezahl“. The line was promoted with a slogan: “A Land-Omnibus goes to the Air-Omnibus”.

For many people those May and June weeks in 1932 at the Müggelsee were highlights of their lifetime, memories which accompanied them for the rest of their lives. Especially for one person, the 68-year-old Frau Klara Schmidt from Scheilberstraße in Baumschulenweg. She was the 100,000th visitor on board of the DO X and to celebrate the fact was invited to join the crew and their guests on a promotional flight on board of the giant on June the 23rd. She took the invitation and went up in the air together with her husband.

Dornier DO X, possibly the most magnificent and elegant flying machine ever built, left Berlin on June 24th 1932: its itinerary took it this time from the Müggelsee to Stettin (today’s Szczecin in Poland). But despite it exceptional size and qualities, the flying boat, which arrived in Berlin from New York where it had spent the previous winter after having visited Rio de Janeiro and the Caribbean Islands, did not have any glorious future before it.

DO X on the Müggelsee in June 1932. Photo by Mr Norbert Radtke, copyright Mr Albert Radtke (licenced CC).

Dornier DO X’s dimensions became its curse. Its long rump turned out to be its weakest point when landing on even moderately sized waves. After a near-crash-landing in Passau a year later, the machine began to lose its sponsors and became a financial disaster. Two years later it was dismantled in Travemünde and shipped to Berlin-Moabit where it became the largest and one of the most popular exhibition objects at the German Aviation Museum. Less than a decade later Dornier Do X was shattered to pieces during an air-raid and eventually burnt down. A water giant was swallowed by flames.

Dornier DO X (X stood for “secret” – other Dornier machines were named after water creatures like whales) at the no-longer existing Deutsches Luftfahrtsammlung in Berlin-Moabit. (image via flugrevue.de from the collection of Deutsches Technikmuseum Berlin)

Book recommendation: Rolf Kießhauer & Andreas Horn “Die Sensation vom Müggelsee: Landung des Flugschiffes “DO-X D-1929”, published 2011 in the series “Friedrichshagener Hefte” No. 62 and available via Antiquariat Brandel in Scharnweberstraße 50 in Berlin-Friedrichshagen.

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  1. “Dornier DO X, possibly the most magnificent and elegant flying machine ever built, left Berlin on June 24th 1932: its itinerary took it this time from the Müggelsee to Stettin (today’s Szczecin in Poland). But despite it exceptional size and qualities, the flying boat, which arrived in Berlin from New York where it had spent the previous winter after having visited Rio de Janeiro and the Caribbean Islands, did not have any glorious future before it.”
    Thanks for making me aware of all this. I actually have not known that such a ‘flying machine’ did exist.
    Yes, Müggelsee is beautiful. I would not mind spending some time there now and visiting maybe cafe “Rübezahl” as well. Berlin has many beautiful lakes and Müggelsee is one of them.

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