This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
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At, on and over Lake Constance

28 January 2023

 
Schiffe, Segel, Tourenwagen,
Flieger, Zeppelin in der Höh',
Welch ein köstliches Behagen
Am, auf und über'm Bodensee.

                    ~ ~ ~
Ships, sails, touring cars,

Aviator, zeppelin in the air,
What delicious comfort
At, on and over Lake Constance.

 
It was a beautiful summer's day. Everywhere you looked people were enjoying the wonderful view of the lake and distant mountains. Never mind all the bicycles, motorcycles, tour buses, sailing yachts, steamships, airplanes, and even airships dashing about. This was German cartoonist Arthur Thiele's vision of modern life in Germany during the 1920s. The place was a popular tourist region of the Bodensee or Lake Constance which is situated in central Europe where Germany, Switzerland, and Austria meet. Along its shorelines are the German states of Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria, the Swiss cantons of St. Gallen, Thurgau, and Schaffhausen, and the Austrian state of Vorarlberg. 
 
The Bodensee is the second largest lake after Lake Geneva in the arc of lakes north of the Alps. The upper Rhine River flows north from the Swiss mountains into the lake and then continues out the west branch of the lake, defining most of the Germany's southern border with Switzerland.
 
The lake's name comes from the university town of Konstanz or Constance. Since ancient times the area around the lake has always attracted visitors who come to enjoy the beautiful scenery. Konstanz is also renown as the birthplace of Graf (Count) Ferdinand von Zeppelin (1838–1917), a scion of a  Württemberg noble family. As a young man he made his mark as a military officer, once traveling to America in 1863 as an observer of the Union Army of the Potomac during the Civil War. While there he extended his time in America with a trip to the Midwest where in St Paul, Minnesota he was introduced to a German-born itinerant balloonist who treated him to a balloon accent. This sparked Zeppelin's imagination to invent a larger lighter-than-air machine that was capable of steerable powered flight. His pursuit of this dream of human flight became the rigid airships now commonly known as zeppelins. Graf von Zeppelin built his dirigibles at a facility near Friedrichshafen on the Bodensee.
 
His first successful airship was the LZ-1 which made its first flight over Lake Constance on 2 July 1900. On this first trial the LZ-1 carried five people to an altitude of 410 m (1,350 ft) and flew a distance of 6.0 km (3.7 mi). But it was all over in 17 minutes as the mechanism for adjusting a moveable weight jammed followed by an engine failure which forced an emergency landing of the airship.
 
 

This postcard's watercolor illustration recreates the scene as the giant sausage-shaped aircraft flies over Lake Constance near Friedrichshafen. The artist rendered the LZ-1 dimensions fairly accurately, probably following a schematic plan, as it was 128 m (420 ft) in length and 13 m (42 ft) in diameter. Power came from propellers driven by two 4-cylinder water-cooled piston engines each capable of 14.2 hp. The crew operated the airship from inside two aluminum gondolas suspended fore and aft below from a long keel. Lift was provided by 17 cells filled with hydrogen gas contained inside the airship's cylindrical framework.
 
Below the LZ-1 is the huge floating hanger that Graf von Zeppelin constructed for the airship so that it could always be positioned to face into the wind, and also because he believed landing on water was safer than on land. In the late summer of 1900, after repairs and other modifications, the LZ-1 flew twice more on 17 and 24 October, achieving a new speed record of 6 km per hour (3.2 kn / 3.7 mph). It was then stored for the winter.
 
However it was not enough to convince investors that lighter-than-air flight had a commercial future. Because his funding was now depleted, Graf von Zeppelin was forced to dismantle the LZ-1, sell the scrap materials and tools, and liquidate his company. 

This postcard depicting the first zeppelin flight was sent from Konstanz to Wiesbaden on 30 December 1900 offering the sender's best wishes for the new year. Considering the brief time that the LZ-1 was in the air, many more people saw this tiny painting of the zeppelin than actually witnessed its first manned flights. Did the writer and recipient ever dream of what lay ahead for aviation?
 

 
Despite these setbacks, Graf von Zeppelin persevered and found investors for his next airships, notably for use by the German military. The LZ-2 was a complete redesign of his original airship and it made its first flight in January 1906, also above Lake Constance. But it was damaged on an emergency landing on its second flight and had to be scrapped. 
 
This led to a third airship, the LZ-3, which included many improvements in power and controls, and became Zeppelin's first financial success. On its maiden flight in October 1906 it carried eleven people and stayed aloft for 2 hours 17 minutes. This impressed the German government officials who authorized a major grant for more airship trials. More backing came from the Kaiser as in 1907 the LZ-3 made several long demonstration flights, including one with the German Crown Prince Wilhelm on board. 
 
However in December 1907 the LZ-3 was baldly damaged during a winter storm on the lake when its floating hanger broke loose from its mooring and was driven ashore. Fortunately Zeppelin's airship had proved itself and a contract for a replacement airship, the LZ-4, was secured from the government. But there was one stipulation. It had to achieve a 24-hour flight.
 
 
 

In this dramatic photo postcard, the LZ-4 flies above a steamship on Lake Constance with the misty snow-capped Alps in the background. This airship first flew on 20 June 1908 but problems in its steering limited the flight to just 18 minutes. Engineers made modifications and in a week it made three more test flights, the last one on 1 July 1908 for a 12 hour cross-country flight to Zürich, Switzerland. On its return to Lake Constance, it had covered 386 km (240 mi) and reached an altitude of 795 m (2,600 ft). Graf Zeppelin and his designers and crew now felt confident that the aircraft was ready for its 24 hour endurance test.
 
The route planned would follow the Rhine to Mainz, the capital and largest city of Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany and then return to the floating hanger at Friedrichshafen on Lake Constance. The date was postponed a few times in order to fix problems with broken parts and damage from a parking accident to the airship that occurred while leaving the hanger. Finally on the morning of 4 August 1908 the LZ-4 began its big test flight, carrying 12 people and sufficient fuel for 31 hours of flight. Hundreds of thousands of people along the river turned out to see the airship pass.
 
The next few hours are a sad tale of one mechanical failure after another. At times the problems made the gigantic zeppelin hang in the sky nose down and then nose up in order to make repairs. Unexpectedly the heat from the sun caused the hydrogen to expand which forced venting gas to prevent the craft from rising  to a dangerous altitude. This gave the airship less lift so it needed to lighten its load. It was brought down at a town south of Mainz and five passengers and all superfluous gear were removed from the craft. It then continued to Mainz where it promptly turned around. Around 1:27 AM an engine crank bearing melted and a decision was made to come down near a Daimler auto factory where a repair could be made. At 7:51 AM the LZ-4 was tethered in a field at Echterdingen and engineers removed the broken forward engine. 

Later that afternoon a gust of wind separated the airship from its mooring despite efforts by a large squad of soldiers holding onto guide ropes. As the airship tore free a crewman reduced the dangerous lift by courageously releasing gas. But on coming to ground the airship crashed into a pear tree and a static spark ignited the hydrogen. Suddenly engulfed in flames the airship was completely destroyed. It is estimated that as many as 50,000 people who had come out that morning to see the great airship witnessed the disaster.

My postcard of the LZ-4 was sent by someone with very florid handwriting which makes it a challenge for me to decipher, but the date is clearly written as 27/8 08 or 27 August 1908, just three weeks after the catastrophe. While it's fun to think the writer might be one of those eyewitnesses describing the awful destruction of the LZ-4 in their lengthy message, the message is probably about something completely different and banal.
 
 

The German public's interest in Zeppelin's airship had made it a symbol of nationalism and collective pride in Germany's great advances in science and engineering. Within 24 hours after news of the terrible accident had spread through the country, Zeppelin's company received thousands of unsolicited donations from German citizens, more than enough to build a new airship. Eventually the donations totaled over 6 million marks which provided Zeppelin with a solid financial base to continue his experiments with airship flight.

 

 
This next post card shows a view of a zeppelin flying high above a detailed topographical map. The caption reads: Das Schussental aus der Vogelschau or The Schussental from a bird's eye view. The Schussental is the region northeast of Friedrichshafen and Lake Constance. The illustration is not unlike a modern satellite view on Google Maps, except this was an artist/map maker's rendition in 1910.
 
It was sent from Ravensburg, the city at the bottom of the map, on 4 September 1910. Though this kind of perspective had been used by many artists since the Middle Ages to depict cities and towns, this might be one of the first examples that drew on an actual experience of what a person could see while flying. Certainly it demonstrated one of the important uses for observation that an airship could provide.
 
 

The next airship from Graf von Zeppelin's factory in Friedrichshafen was the LZ-5 which made its first flight on 26 May 1909 again at Lake Constance. It proved capable of making several successful long distance flights and was sold to the military. This is probably the airship depicted in the birds-eye-view. However like its predecessor it was destroyed on 24 April 1910 by a storm while on moored on the ground. On the long Wikipedia List of Zeppelins, the words "damaged, crashed, destroyed" appear frequently. Building an airship was easy. Learning to fly one safely was not.

 
 

In this next photo postcard a zeppelin hovers above a lakeside community named in the caption, Überlingen, a city on the northeast shore of Lake Constance. The airship almost looks as if it is about to throw a line over the tall church steeple. The caption also has a date 27. Oktober 1908. and on the back the postmarks are from 30/10/1908. Since the LZ-5 was not yet built and the LZ-4 was destroyed in August 1908, then this zeppelin must be an earlier photo of LZ-4. Why the photographer's caption is dated that way is a mystery. Perhaps it was a tourist souvenir of the ill-fated airship. But it's a fun photo nonetheless.
 
 

 
The year 1908 stands out in the history of aviation for more than just Graf von Zeppelin's airships. On 13 January 1908, the British-French aviator Henry Farman flew his aeroplane around a one-kilometer circle to win the 50,000-franc Deutsche-Archdeacon prize. On 4 July 1908 in Hammondsport, New York, Glenn Hammond Curtiss  flew his biplane Junebug for a distance of 5,080 ft (1,550 m) in one minute 42.5 seconds to win the Scientific American Trophy and $2,500 prize. 
 
On 5 August 1908 at Fort Meyer, Virginia, ironically on the same day as the LZ-4's terrible accident, the U. S. Army tested SC-1, Signal Corps Dirigible No. 1, the first powered aircraft ordered by its new Aeronautical Division as a test of lighter-than-air versus heavier-than-air machines. It was 93 feet (28m) long, not even a quarter the LZ-4's length of 446 ft (136 m) and holding only a tenth the volume of gas. Though this non-rigid dirigible performed decently without incident, it still failed to meet the military's requirement to fly 2-hours at 20 mph.
 
The biggest aviation event of the year was happening in Europe, by strange coincidence on August 8, 1908, when Wilbur Wright demonstrated the Wright brothers' Flyer at a horse racing track south of Le Mans, France. Over several days Wilbur flew his unique biplane around the course for hundreds of thousands of spectators, showing off the machine's ability to easily take off and land and negotiate turns including figure-eights. The Wright Flyer became an instant sensation with the French public, overshadowing the tragic news of the LZ-4. Later on 3 September 1908, Orville Wright made a similar successful exhibition of the Flyer for the Signal Corps at Fort Meyer. The Wright Brothers now had contracts from both the French and American military.
 
However two weeks later during a series of training flights when Orville was taking observers onboard, Fort Meyer became the location of the first aviation fatality. On 17 September 1908 with over 2,500 people watching, a passenger on the Wright Flyer, Lt. Thomas Selfridge, was killed when at an altitude of about 100 feet (30 m) a propeller split causing the aircraft to spin out of control. In the crash Selfridge suffered a concussion and later died, becoming the first casualty of an accident in a powered fixed-wing aircraft. Orville Wright, the pilot, was also badly injured, breaking his ribs and a leg.
 

 

Leut aus aller Herra Länder
Manne, Weiber und au Render
Roiset gern an Bodesee
Densek sich isch do moll schö.
            ~ ~ ~
People from all over the world
Men, women and au Render(?)
Roiset(?) like to go to Lake Constance
And think it's fine.

 
Ten years later, at the end of 1918, the world was recovering from more than 4 years of horrific warfare. Both zeppelins and aeroplanes played a part in this tragic conflict and at another time I will have more stories about this subject. But the 1920s were about more peaceable pursuits like holiday travel and in this last postcard by cartoonist Arthur Thiele we see how he viewed modern tourism at the Bodensee. 
 
In his colorful illustration he draws a platform of the Friedrichshafen train station where a variety of tourists hustle about on their way to find recreation at Lake Constance. Beyond the platform is a steamship and sailboats in the distance. In the sky is an aeroplane and a zeppelin as well as a cute stick figure clinging to a balloon. The dirigible is fatter and larger than the first zeppelins. And the aeroplane is a single wing monoplane, and might even be a seaplane. The balloon figure just looks desperate.
 
Thiele's humorous lines are printed with an archaic German typeface called Fraktur which makes a couple of the words difficult to translate. (Any guesses are very welcome.)

The postcard was sent on 1 July 1929 from Friedrichshafen to Frau Klara Stark of Nürnberg. The zeppelin is likely the great LZ-127 Graf Zeppelin which operated from 1928 to 1937 and became the most successful airship in aviation history. It was 236m (776 ft) in length and 30m (100 ft) in diameter. The Graf Zeppelin could carry twenty passengers with a crew of 36. It had a range of 10,000 km (6,200 miles) and did regular commercial service from Germany to Brazil and United States, eventually logging almost 1.7 million km (1,053,391 miles).
 
 

 
As I've explained in my previous posts about zeppelins, ever since I first learned about lighter-than-air flight when I was a boy, I have been fascinated with the history of balloons, dirigibles, blimps, and zeppelins. Recently when I discovered the huge variety of antique postcards depicting zeppelin flights I became intrigued by how the imagery showed how people once imagined human flight at the beginning of the 20th century. For anyone living in 1908 the sight of Graf von Zeppelin's airship gliding across the sky like a cloud must have been a true marvel. And then to watch Wilbur Wright fly swiftly around and around, up and down, had to be the most amazing thing ever seen. That kind of wonder does not exist in the 21sy century.
 
Imagination can only take us so far. Though a writer like Jules Verne or H. G. Wells might describe a flying machine, a reader must still interpret the concept. For most of the world's people in 1908 the flight of a zeppelin or aeroplane was so farfetched that to see one required a suspension of the laws of physics. How could something like that stay up in the air? Even the pioneers of aviation like Zeppelin and the Wright brothers were hard put to explain how powered flight worked. It seemed that every new advance in aviation created new problems to solve, new questions to answer, new designs to test. In 2023 as mankind prepares to make another leap to the moon and beyond, it's worth remembering how the dream first started.
 
 
 
 
* * *
 
 
 I can't resist adding a British Pathé short newsreel of the 
 
 

 
 
 
 

 
 And finally a short film
showing a "landing" on the Bodensee.
GERMANY: Graf Zeppelin is moored on Lake Constance. (1931)

Watch out for the zeppelin's chef.
 
 





 
 
 
This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where Britannia will always rule the waves.




nolitbx

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