Tuesday, July 13, 2010


“Z” is for “Zeppelin”
A few decades ago I had a wonderful assignment.

I was to make a promotional film for Lufthansa on the region of Bavaria. I decided to feature the fascinating city of Friedrichshafen, on beautiful Lake Constance.

One of the things that made it fascinating to me was that this was where the Zeppelin dirigible airships were born; in fact, where old man Graf (Count) Zeppelin himself was born.

It is not generally remembered today that zeppelins – “rigid” airships, not “blimps” – were thought to be the next step in travel.

Way back before World War I, in other words a hundred years ago, you could take a regularly-scheduled zeppelin from one European city to another, just like you took the train.

Here’s a group of ladies enjoying their zeppelin flight around the year 1912.

By the 1920s the Germans had come up with the beautiful (and appropriately named) “Graf Zeppelin,” which regularly made trans-Atlantic flights. Passengers, above, are seen preparing to board in 1929 when the Graf Zeppelin sailed around the world.

The dining room during the round-the-world trip.

The U S got into the act, believing also that this represented the future of travel, and built a number of dirigibles; note the stamp from that era.

This all reached a peak with the creation of a now world-famous zeppelin, the magnificent “Hindenburg,” pride of Hitler’s Germany, in the thirties.

This ship was a grand deluxe hotel, floating through space. Above, the dining room.

Here’s a picture of the smoking room. Think of it: the airship was filled with hydrogen, which meant that in certain areas the lighting of a match, or even a spark of some kind, would blow the whole thing up -- but there was a smoking room.

On the left, a lounge where you could have casual conversation with friends under the benevolent gaze of the Fuehrer. On the right, the children’s playroom, which had a light-weight aluminum piano. Sad note: the hostess seen playing with the child died in the 1937 disaster.

Because that, of course, is what happened to the “Hindenburg” – disaster. It was on May 6, 1937, that the airship caught fire and was destroyed – it took only a little over 30 seconds – while trying to land in Lakehurst, New Jersey. No one is absolutely certain of the actual cause. More than that dirigible was destroyed on that day. The disaster shattered public confidence in giant zeppelins and it pretty well marked the end of the airship era.


Sheri said...

berowne, this was fascinating! i had heard of the hindenburg but never really knew anything about it or zeppelins in general...this was a fine work!
hubby and i were stationed in bavaria in the 80's...what a wonderful place to live for a few years!

Berowne said...

Thanks for a great comment, sheri.

mrsnesbitt said...

Do you know I have never seen the inside of one of these flying miracles - I remember as a child seeing one explode in a TV documentary and had nightmares for many years!

Thanks so much for another fascinating contribution for ABC Wednesday, hope to see you aboard for Round 7 which kicks off next week!

ABC Team

Berowne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Berowne said...

Denise: "...hope to see you aboard for Round 7 which kicks off next week!"
Looking forward to it. :-)

Sylvia K said...

What a terrific post for the Z day! Interesting history and marvelous photos. I've always been fascinated by them! Have a great week!


LisaF said...

These were a tribute to good old fashion ingenuity! Something the old world needs right now! Interesting post. Thanks for the peek into the past.

Bettey said...

Great post for Z!! Very interesting info... Have a good rest of the week :)

Hood Photo Blog

Tumblewords: said...

Informative post. I don't recall seeing interior views of the fascinating airships.

photowannabe said...

Like Denise, I had never seen the inside of the zepplin. This is so fascinating. thanks for the interesting post.

Mara said...

I once stayed in a hotel in Potsdam (near Berlin), which stood on the site of the factory where zeppelins were built. They even had a small exhibition about it. I wish I had taken more photos...

Leslie: said...

Fascinating post to me as I just finished reading Wilbur Smith's "Assegei" in which the zeppelins were described in detail.

Gayle said...

Commercial airships fly here often (in San Diego), filming sports events and golf tournaments. Sightseeing companies even offer tours in certain Calif. cities. Wonder what it's like to actually fly in one.

Roger Owen Green said...

I knew smoking was bad for your health, but yeesh!

ROG, ABC Wednesday team

Unknown said...

Wonderful,post! As I looked through my preliminary list of Z-words, I paused and thought about the word/name Zeppelin, and hoped that someone could do something with it. And that you have!

I think it is a pity that airships are not used today. Isn't there a gas that is not so flamable that you could use for these ships? For travellers that are not in a hurry, but need to move their geer, it might be a good solution. (I could use one right now!)

Nice post at the end of round 6! See you again in round seven!
Best wishes,

Anna's Z-words

rallentanda said...

More stories from this period and WW2 period please. Enjoy first hand accounts of history.
Happy Bastille Day!

Berowne said...

rallentanda: "Happy Bastille Day!"
Oui, le jour de gloire est arrive. :-)

Joy said...

The interior photographs are fascinating. They built a couple of airships way back in the town I live in to compete with the German versions, not very successfully, the first one broke in half.

Berowne said...

Joy: "...the first one broke in half."
That was the key problem with the huge dirigibles. Many of them "broke in half."

Linda Frances said...

Oh—such a wonderful tour. I've never seen the inside of the Zeppelin dirigible so this was a treat. I also appreciated the historical aspect of this post.

Carol said...

Fascinating post! I knew about the Hindenburg, of course, but had not seen interior photos, as so many of your commenters have said. Thank you for the tour.

Shirley Landis VanScoyk said...

I can't wait to work into conversation all the cool stuff I just learned.(and will never be able to get out of my head, too bad it's all in front of the stuff I really need like where I put my car keys and what I ate today)


Linda Bob Grifins Korbetis Hall said...

what historical and remarkable z post.
I have read a book about the zeppelin,
thank you for the reminder!

Berowne said...

My thanks to Linda Frances, Carol, Shirley LVS and Jingle for your enthusiastic comments.

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