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 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.

#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: