Germany, Friedrichshafen and the Zeppelin

Friedrichshafen Zeppelin

The hotel served a substantial breakfast and after making sure that we had filled ourselves sufficiently to last the whole day we set off to explore the town.  It was surprisingly warm and I had failed to pack appropriately and lacking a short sleeved shirt had to purchase one from the cheap shop next to the hotel, only 4€ so a real bargain, but I was too mean to buy more than one so this would have to last for three days, so what I’d saved on clothing I would probably need to spend on deodorant.

Thursday was market day so we walked through the city streets that were closed to traffic and perused the market stalls and their wares.  Once again there was an abundance of fruit and vegetables and most interestingly of all there were small pitches where smallholders were selling the fruits of their labours and there was a real sense that this was good home grown produce that had been harvested only most recently.  It wasn’t a market to compare with Riga or Pula or even La Rochelle but it was vibrant and exciting and there was a certainty about the place that this was a principal source of shopping for local people and not like markets at home where all they do is to some meagre extent supplement the weekly supermarket shop.

We walked past the Zeppelin museum, which is just about the most famous thing about Friedrichshafen because this is where the airship was pioneered and developed.  Airships are a type of rigid hot air balloon pioneered by the German Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin in the early twentieth century, and so successful was the Count’s design that all airships subsequently became referred to as zeppelins, even if they weren’t (a bit like vacuum cleaners all being called Hoovers!)

Zeppelin Friedrichshafen

Zeppelin was born in Konstanz, on the other side of the lake and in 1898 he founded the ‘Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Luftschiffahrt’ or the company for the promotion of airship flight, and construction of the first Zeppelin began in Friedrichshafen in 1899 which enjoyed a perfect location for launching the airships presumably because the lake provided a slightly softer landing in the event of mishaps.  The first Zeppelin flight occurred on 2nd July 1900 over Lake Constance and lasted for eighteen minutes.

The most important feature of Zeppelin’s design was a rigid metal alloy skeleton, made of rings and longitudinal girders. The advantage of this concept was that they could be built much larger than a conventional balloon which were only really big enough to get a small number of people into the air at the same time and which meant they were more useful for transporting people and commercial goods and so they became great ships of the sky even making epic transatlantic crossings in the 1930’s.

The trouble with airships however was that they were inherently dangerous because they relied upon the highly combustible gas, hydrogen, to keep them afloat.  On May 6, 1937, in front of thousands of spectators in New Jersey, USA, the biggest aircraft ever made, the airship Hindenburg caught fire, and within seconds burst into flames killing thirty-five of the ninety-seven people on board.

Although static electricity is the front runner in the blame stakes the actual cause of the spark that caused the explosion was never identified but it is a bizarre fact that the airship actually had a smoking room in the passenger compartment.  For the sake of safety it was lined with asbestos and the electronic lighter was chained to the floor but it still sounds a bit reckless to me.  This disaster was the end for great airships and the Zeppelin Company in Friedrichshafen as they were by now being challenged for air supremacy by the much safer aeroplane.

I know all of this even without visiting the museum because Kim wasn’t over enthusiastic and anyway the sun was shining so it was too nice to waste the excellent weather by paying to go into a museum.

There are still Zeppelins flying from Friedrichshafen and we could see tourist flights taking off from the airport for a flight over the city and the lake and across to Switzerland.  If there had been time I think I might have been persuaded to take the trip but I had already told Kim the Hindenburg story and she wasn’t terribly keen.

Lake Constanse Bodensee

8 responses to “Germany, Friedrichshafen and the Zeppelin

  1. I’m a fool for such statues and the history behind them – both the character and the reason for commissioning such an artwork.

  2. You knew all that even without visiting the museum?!

  3. Pingback: On This Day – Friedrichshafen on Lake Constance | Have Bag, Will Travel

  4. Four grandchildren, wow! Like the grandson’s name haha. You can add Belgium, Netherlands, Poland and others to that list that bewilder people. Seems that any country not renowned for seaside or the most popular cities like Barça, Paris or Rome is met with puzzlement when you say you have visited. That’s quite frankly good for us that there are so many gems off the tourist trap radar. I can’t wait to get back to Romania which has stunning cities and beautiful countryside. Romania? Really?

    • Four and my son hasn’t even started yet!
      You are absolutely right about travelling to places that others don’t. I cannot understand the current clamour to be allowed to go to Spain and Greece – it will be awful right now!

  5. Fascinating, I knew nothing about the Zeppelin apart from the fact of the tragedy. I don’t think I would have risked the flight over the city, but then again, I’m not the adventurous kind when it comes to taking my feet off land.

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