Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Phoenix aus der Asche - Die Deutsche Luftfahrt Sammlung In Berlin

Michael Hundertmark & Holger Steinle, Silberstreif Verlag GmbH, Berlin, Germany, 1985, ISBN 3-924091-02-1. Illustrated, hardcover, published in German.

Cover image © by Silberstreif Verlag GmbH, 1985.

The Deutsche Luftfahrt Sammlung [German Aviation Collection] in Berlin has attained a near-mythical status within the field of German aviation history, not least due to the fact that this exceptionally unique and utterly irreplaceable collection of aircraft and aviation artifacts was scattered and/or destroyed during ravages of World War II. Only fragments of the formerly vast collection remain today, most of them stored in Poland. An equally important contributor to the myth is that not only the hardware has largely vanished but that relatively little information about the Deutsche Luftfahrt Sammlung has been published post-war.

While significant efforts have been made in Berlin in recent decades to at long last establish something akin to a successor collection (i.e., the outstanding permanent aviation exhibit of the Deutsches Technikmuseum in Berlin-Kreuzberg) to preserve and display Germany's aviation heritage, the loss of the original Deutsche Luftfahrt Sammlung has irretrievably deprived Germany of some of its most precious and significant exponents of the country's aviation history.

Phoenix aus der Asche [Phoenix Arisen From The Ashes] grants us an at least fleeting look at the abundance of remarkable exhibits once hosted by the Deutsche Luftfahrt Sammlung. Moreover, the book provides an exhaustive history of the institution itself as well as of the site in Berlin where the museum once stood. The authors, Michael Hundertmark (an aviation historian) and Holger Steinle (who would be crucially instrumental in establishing the new aviation exhibit of the Deutsches Technikmuseum) spent years researching the former Deutsche Luftfahrt Sammlung. The resulting book is thus still the definitive (if inevitably vastly incomplete) landmark study on this topic, even 25 years after its publication.

Phoenix aus der Asche begins with a look at the so-called Pulvermühle-site in Berlin's Tiergarten district in the 19th century. The detailed text, along with numerous photos and drawings, depicts the construction of the building that would much later become the main exhibition hall of the Deutsche Luftfahrt Sammlung. Hundertmark and Steinle subsequently describe the establishment of an official German aviation collection as well as the formal opening of the associated new museum on June 20, 1936. The gloomy end of the narrative depicts the destruction of the building and some of its exhibits during the war as well as the scattering of those exhibits that had already been removed from the museum in anticipation of the impending obliteration.

The second half of Phoenix aus der Asche is dedicated to a closer portrayal of some of the noteworthy German and foreign exhibits of the Deutsche Luftfahrt Sammlung, such as Ernst Udet's Curtiss Hawk, Horten Ho II, Levavasseur Antoinette, Heinkel He 5 e, an engine nacelle of the Zeppelin-Staaken R IV, the Messerschmitt Me 209 V1, and many more. The book concludes with an attempt to provide what was probably the most comprehensive - but openly tentative - list of the exhibits at the time of the publication of this book.

Since this book saw the light of the day in 1985, a small number of complementary articles on the Deutsche Luftfahrt Sammlung have been published, such as

- Auf der Spur der Veteranen (Die frühere Deutsche Luftfahrtsammlung Berlin - viele Fragen und noch wenige Antworten), by Marian Krzyzan & Holger Steinle, in Flugzeug 5/1988,

- Wie die Do X ins Museum kam, by Prof. Dr. Dr. Holger Steinle, in Jet & Prop 3/1997,

- Die untergegangene Luftfahrtsammlung (Teil 1), by Heiko Müller, in Klassiker der Luftfahrt 1/2007, and

- Juwelen in Berlin (Teil 2), by Heiko Müller, in Klassiker der Luftfahrt 2/2007.

Phoenix aus der Asche, however, easily remains the definitive work on this fascinating and long-perished German collection of aircraft, in spite of what must be a wealth of additional information that has since been uncovered.

Article updated November 15, 2011.

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