Did you know that in German sign language Berlin is symbolised by a bear’s ear? Even though, contrary to popular belief, the city’s name was not inspired by any large furry carnivore but has its root in a old Slavonic word barl (a marshland, a morass), the animal is Berlin’s symbol and is featured on its coat of arms.

This informative little video was created for those interested in learning the names of Berlin’s main old boroughs and localities in sign language – notice how the typical endings “-berg” and “-dorf” are pronounced. And make sure you learn at least several names by heart. Alexanderplatz should not be a problem to memorise, though;-)


#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:

Between 1936 and 1938 a young German engineer named Konrad Zuse – who was born on June 22 1910 in Wilmersdorf and later lived with his family in Kreuzberg – was busy re-decorating his parents’ living room. It happened in a house which used to stand in today’s Methfesselstraße No. 10 – sadly, the building fell prey to one of the Second-World-War air-raids.

The refurbishment was taking place with the parents’ consent as well as their financial support but hardly any grasp of what was happening under their roof. Their home became a headquarters of mad scientists with Konrad as the commander-in-chief, his good friend and fellow engineer, Helmut Shreyer, as deputy; Zuse’s older sister, Liselotte (who according to Zuse was “unlucky enough to be born in those times as an intelligent person and as a woman“) as his right hand and a group of the scientist’s little helpers from A.V. “Motiv” (an academic society at Berlin’s Technical University). The living room was rendered completely unusable for its usual purposes by something that was to become the dawn of modern computing.

Z1 in the living room of Zuse’s parents’ flat (source: horst-zuse.homepage.t-online.de)

It was a spreading mechanism built around a metal frame, using hundreds and hundreds of thin metal plates (invented and patented by Zuse himself and manufactured by the group working on the project) and powered by a single electric motor – one which had been “borrowed” from the family vacuum cleaner. The machine – meant to do what the inventor himself was so loathe to, namely perform boring, time-consuming engineering calculations – was to be programmable. To that end, Zuse used a simple but ingenious trick: programme was fed into the machine with the help of strips of punched film tape. That machine was we what refer to as a computer.

Konrad Zuse holding one of the key elements of his early computer (photo: AP)

And not just any computer: what was later named Zuse 1 or Z1, used the binary – the “1-0” – system. Our tablets, smartphones, PCs and notebooks are far descendants of Zuse’s metal wonder. And like with all forefathers and foremothers of Progress this one, too, was far from perfect. The original Z1 did work but being a mechanical thing made of not always perfectly manufactured elements, was prone to jamming and thus to producing false results.

However, is it now it exactly how progress works? With the imperfect first edition being soon replaced by its improved version? Konrad Zuse knew Z1 had not been what he had wished it to be. Soon enough, he had another project in progress that would go down in history as Z2. Then came his Z3 – created in Methfesselstraße 7 (where a half-ruined section of the facade wall of the building has been preserved until today) as the first working programmable computer in the world, followed by a Z4 soon afterwards. Of course, both were then overtaken by smarter devices – which, however, in no way lessens the amazing significance of Zuse’s discoveries.

Konrad Zuse (l) and Helmut Schreyer (r) working out the details of their project.

Today Z1 with its 32 bytes of memory and a 1Hz clock – that means one cycle per second as opposed to the 2.4 Gigaherz these words are being “penned” with – could hardly be considered impressive. Still, so great was its impact that when the original mechanism and the whole documentation were destroyed along with the house where Zuse’s workshop was located at the time, it was considered to be a disaster in the history of computing sciences.

Not surprisingly, years later a decision was made to have the machine reconstructed. And only one person in the whole world was capable of doing it right: the master himself. Konrad Zuse began building the replica of Z1 in 1986, again making most of the parts himself. It lasted almost three long years.

Replica of Z1 at Berlin’s Technikmuseum (image by ComputerGeek at Wikipedia)

Today it can be seen at the Technology Museum in Berlin-Kreuzberg (Trebbiner Straße 9, U7 Gleisdreieck). In Methfesselstraße 7 a plaque commemorates the doggedness of one inventor, the endless patience of his parents and the astounding fate of one living room.


Konrad Zuse and his inventions are featured in an audio-tour of West Kreuzberg created by yours truly and available via voicemap.me under this link.