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June 6th 2019

Zeppelin and many reminders of the 1944/1945 bombing

Today it is D-Day, the day on which in the whole world attention is paid to the first day of the Operation Overlord. The Allied started an operation with amphibious landings – on the largest scale ever seen in history – on the coasts of Normandy to set in motion the liberation of Western Europe and to put an end to the Nazi-German siege. However it would still take until May 1945 before the Second World War had definitively ended (in Europe). We can count ourselves lucky that we have been able to keep peace for already 75 years! I am personally convinced that we have to do our utmost to keep that peace also for the future: that is our obligation we have towards these brave men and women who have fought for this peace – and who often have paid for it with their live… In such a conflict there are not only winners, but of course also losers… Germany had lost. Also in that country deep wounds have been inflicted. The scars are still there.

On my second day in Constance I have been to Friedrichshafen, also at the Lake Constance. Contrary to Constance that has come from material point of view rather undamaged out of the Second World War, Friedrichshafen has been suffering quite a lot. During the Second World War many factories in and around this town were involved in activities for the war industry, such as the Dornier aircraft factory, Maybach for the construction of tanks and Zeppelin for the manufacturing of a. o. the propulsion for the V2 rockets. The Allies have especially in the years 1944–1945 executed several bombings of these factories. During the night of April 27th the city itself has been bombed, in which more than two-third of the city was destroyed. The traces are still visible.

The weather today was in comparison to yesterday not very pleasant: a cold wind, low temperatures and an overcast sky. After a good breakfast I went around half past nine to the landing-pier at the harbour, from where the ferry service between Konstanz and Friedrichshafen is operated. The crossing by catamaran takes about 50 minutes. Once outside the harbour of Constance we sped up and soon left Constance behind us.


Konstanz: view on the skyline of Konstanz with the wake by the catamaran on the way to Friedrichshafen

Until 1811 Friedrichshafen was called Buchhorn, an imperial city (Reichstadt) in the Holy Roman Empire. Its history goes back to 838; from the 12th century tradesmen settled down there who built warehouses for the trade with Italy across the Alps. In 1811 the town has been renamed by King Friedrich I. of Württemberg into Friedrichshafen, with privileges because of the status of free port and transit for trade with Switzerland. The Monastery in the neighbouring village of Hofen was converted into the King’s summer residence. The town did not only flourish because of that, but also because dignitaries from the King’s retinue settled there and had large villas built. Also under the next King’s reign, Wilhelm I, the town became even more prosperous. In 1847 Friedrichshafen was connected by railway to Ravensburg and in 1850 to Heilbronn. The first ferry service to Romanshorn was established in 1869. The town also developed into an industrial area. This aspect is not quite visible at the banks of the Lake Constance.

Around 11 o’clock we entered the harbour of Friedrichshafen, without having seen much of the mountain world at the south bank of Lake Constance: it was hidden behind low clouds. The Uferpromenade (Lakeside promenade) starts at the pier and runs for approximately two kilometres along the lake. It has been created on the dumped rubble of the town after the destructive bombing on April 28th 1944. I followed this promenade. On the town side of the promenade is a wide strip with lawns, parks, wide steps and small squares; there also are statues and memorials. Some of these statues have survived the Second World War, like the statue from 1930 of the wounded soldier from the First World War, who puts a dressing on his arm in order to continue fighting. This statue has been designed by Erwin Dauner (1894–1980) and stands on a plinth in an up to now empty round water-basin. The sculptor Dauner was active mainly in the interbellum and during the Third Reich. In 2004 on private initiative six steles have been placed with plaques on which the names are written of those who have perished in the Second World War. For me this “Kriegerdenkmal” has gained significance through these additions.


Friedrichshafen: the “Kriegerdenkmal”, the war memorial for the victims of the two World Wars

“War and peace” is a central theme for other more modern statues too: like for the statue “Die Brücken der Begegnung“, the Bridges of the Encounter, by Chr. G. Becker from 1996. Here two faces look away from each other, but then two faces cut out of the larger ones, do look at each other. The installation “Die Auferstehung” (Resurrection) by Anthony Robinson from 1987 gives an impression of a future in freedom.

There also are statues along the Uferpromenade dating from before the Second World War and giving an impression of times long gone by: a memorial stone with in bronze a portrait “en profil” of the German author Gustav Schwab (1792–1850), who is still well-known for his children’s books about the sagas from the Greek and Roman Antiquity, a bust of Emperor Wilhelm I. and a fountain made of Verona marble in a marvellous red colour, the “Karl-Olga Brunnen“, from 1886 to the occasion of the 40th wedding anniversary of King Karl I. of Württemberg and his wife Olga, which is situated further from the bank of the lake.

Who mentions “Friedrichshafen” will immediately make the connection with “Zeppelin”. The Constance-born Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin (1838–1917) was an inventor and aviation pioneer. He had noticed how in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 the French had used air balloons for reconnaissance and communication. Hereby inspired he had been working since 1891 on the construction of an “airship”. In 1895 he patented the Zeppelin, that has been named after him, a cigar-shaped “lighter-than-air” flying object, filled with hydrogen. Its purpose was to be used as the first manoeuvrable air balloon for mass transportation of goods and people. The development of the regular, “heavier-then-air”, aeroplane was still in its infancy. There were many set-backs, but already in 1900 the first flight over Lake Constance could be successfully finished. In the First World War Zeppelins were engaged in the bombing of Antwerp and London… After the infamous accident with the Zeppelin “Hindenburg” when landing in New York on May 6th 1937 Zeppelins were over and done with. Since the First World War Zeppelin’s company has also invested in the construction of “real” planes, like in the company of Dornier. Since 2000 the Zeppelin-history has come to life again: the company Zeppelin-NT (Neue Technologie, New Technology) has developed new Zeppelins and organises sightseeing flights. I have indeed seen them flying over.

In 2000 a modern statue in bronze of Graf von Zeppelin is placed at the Graf-Zeppelin-Haus, a conference hall from 1985, on the banks of the Lake Constance. The statue is made by F. Müller-Belecke (1932–2008): here the Count is looking across the Lake Constance to the mountains in the distance, his binoculars within reach. On a clear day visitors have a beautiful view too on a. o. the mountain Säntis (2.505m) at one of the “three cantons points” of the Swiss Cantons of Appenzell Innerrhoden, Appenzell Ausserrhoden and Sankt Gallen. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case today. Close by not only a monumental beech is standing, that had probably belonged to one of the villas destroyed during the bombing of April 28th 1944, but also a memorial for Graf von Zeppelin from 1985. This 13 metres high triangular obelisk of bronze has been designed by local sculptor Toni Schneider-Manzell (1911–1996); it shows at the side turned towards the lake Zeppelin’s head in relief with below one of his quotations: “Mann muss nur wollen und daran glauben, dann wird es gelingen” (one has only to want it and believe in it, then it will be successful). On the western side some achievements of the Zeppelin airships between 1900 and 1936 are mentioned.

A somewhat macabre constellation is standing in the water near the “Beach Club”: “Das Klangschiff – im Augenblick” (the Boat of Sound – at present). It has been made by Helmut Lutz (*1941), a sculptor and writer of mystery plays. A central theme in his work is uniting Eastern and Western Europe. In this work of art made to the occasion of the Balkan Wars, the European Bull and Urania, Astrology, form the centre piece.


Friedrichshafen: Piece of art “Das Klangschiff“ (Boat of Sound) in the Lake on the Uferpromenade

At the Graf-Zeppelin-Haus the Uferpromenade ends and a footpath along the water around the Schloss Castle begins. Apparently the bannister on the lakeside had become colourless and tattered before restoration, because at a corner of the green patch, just outside the walls of the park around the Castle, sort of demonstrative, a collection of scaled parts of the bannister had been placed and a sign on which is mentioned that bathing is prohibited – the text is only vaguely visible! Now the restored bannister looks very nice with a paint in a pastel grey-green shade with black rosettes with red hearts and points in the corners in corn cob shape. There still is a landing-pier dating from the time the king resided here in summer, but it has never been very important for commercial use. After 1918 the Schlosshafen harbour wasn’t much used anymore and it was closed in 1932. Remains of the platform for loading and unloading can still be seen when the water level is low. Through the high wrought-iron gate I had a look into the wonderful, well-kept garden of the Castle with centuries-old trees and elegantly styled pavilions, but the beautiful gate was closed…

Along the bank at the Castle a lighting beacon sha been installed with a sign on which the three districts of the Lake Constance are indicated in case of storm warnings: here is region “Middle”. Also indicated are which storm lights will be shown at what wind speeds and with which number of light flashes per minute. An old picture in the Schlosskirche church clearly shows clearly how severe storms on the Lake Constance can be: in case of a een Föhnsturm storm the water will pass over the quay!

The church Schlosskirche is an imposing building with two towers of 55 metres each with an onion-shaped steeple, built in 1702 ; in those days it was the highest baroque church building. A century later the church was secularised. The complex with the castle came into the possession of the Monarchy of Württemberg. Here the bombing of April 28th 1944 has left its traces too…: the roof construction, the steeples and the top of the southern tower, the organ and the largest part of the choir stalls were destroyed. Because it wasn’t allowed to cover the roof, the parts of the roof that hadn’t been damaged were lost because of the influence of the weather. In 1947–1948 a temporary roof has been installed with help from Switzerland; in 1949–1951 the church interior was restored again, although in a simplified form. On July 1st 1951 the church was re-inaugurated. The repairs to the roof finished up the restauration of the church in 1959. Nevertheless the church interior looks splendid again. In an artistic way a commemoration panel has been fitted in the coffered ceiling: “Erbaut 1695–1702, Soli deo gloria, 1944 Zerstört Erneuert 1950” (built 1695–1702, honour only to God – 1944 destroyed – renewed 1950).

In the church pictures from earlier times are on display, among which an overview of the destructions in the town’s centre after the bombings of 1944–1945…


Friedrichshafen: old picture of the destroyed town after the bombings of 1944/1945

After quite a long walk along the lakeside and back again I arrived on the Uferpromenade at a restaurant, the Spitalkeller (Hospital’s cellar), that looked authentic: on the menu were many traditional dishes from the region of Swabia, such as good “Käsespäzle“. In the dish was a hint of nutmeg, which made it even more tasty. A glass of Riesling from the region went along well! The restaurant is in one of the few buildings in the centre that haven’t been hit in the bombing of April 28th 1944 – in the menu the owners have indicated that with this memento in mind they are trying to do their upmost to make the restaurant successful.


Friedrichshafen: the Swabian speciality „Käsespätzle“ with baked onions and a glass of Riesling wine at the Spitalkeller

In the old town’s centre the St. Nikolauskirche is situated, which was originally a chapel and is already mentioned in a deed from 1325. The inhabitants of the former village of Buchhorn transformed the chapel into a gothic church with the still recognisable church tower. In the 18th century the tower was given its present form. After several drastic refurbishments the church was modernised since 1940. On April 28th 1944 the church was also badly damaged. Just the shrine installed in 1942 by Fritz Möhler with the inscription “Siehe, ich mache alles neu“ (Look, I renew everything) and the undamaged crucifix could be saved. These items have been re-installed in the restored church. A quiet room has been created with a wonderfully designed glass wall, the Burning Bush, made by Roland Peter Litzenburg (1917–1987). This room really is an oasis of tranquillity.

On the Audenauerplatz, next to the St. Nikolauskirche, there is not only the modern city hall from 1956, but also the Buchhornbrunnen, the fountain named after the original town, Buchhorn. Like in Constance the artist-couple Gernot and Barbara Rumpf has come into action: in 2001 this fountain was inaugurated. The beech from Buchhorn in the centre, surrounded by items that have a connection with the industrial developments of the town. A beautiful statue in bronze stands at the north side of the St. Nikolauskirche: “Der Denker” (The Thinker) by Esther Seitel. It represents an introvert man, who seems to be totally in balance with himself. It has been put on its plinth in 1997. There is also a border with six rhododendrons with (almost spent) purple flowers with a yellow heart, called “Zeppelinstadt Friedrichshafen“. They have been offered to the mayor of Friedrichshafen and the CEO of Zeppelin GmbH in July 2017. The peculiarity is the yellow colour in the heart of the rhododendron flower: it is the same yellow as the company colour of Zeppelin.

Then it was about time to return to the landing-pier of the catamaran for the return trip to Constance. At the Buchhornplatz near the harbour the Zeppelinmuseum is situated. This sleek, white building from 1933 was the former railway station of Friedrichshafen-Harbour. In 2009 the Zeppelin museum could move into this a new accommodation. On both sides of the entrance door to the restaurant vigorously designed reliefs of hard stone, depicting a rower and a blacksmith, have been placed.

On the outside of the white building a plaque can be found as a remembrance of the so-called “Schweizer Kinder” (Swiss children): in the years 1946 and 1947, just after the war, “grossherzige” (generous) Swiss have invited over 6.000 young children from Swabia and Allgäu to spend a carefree day in Switzerland. According to the plaque these “Swiss children” have been grateful for this gesture of humanity up until today.


Friedrichshafen: Plaque to commemorate the so called “Schweizer Kinder” (the Swiss Children) of 1946-1947

The catamaran left the harbour at 15.02 o’clock. The white Zeppelin museum nicely stood out against the grey afternoon sky. To make full circle: I saw a Zeppelin flying over Friedrichshafen…!