Flugplatz Johannisthal: Liebe Grüße from the world's second oldest airfield

Filed 26/9/2015 |
You don’t expect to find love it in a hopelessly trashed industrial wasteland awaiting final collapse opposite a police station. But there, in the remnants of a former airfield, you’ll find a whole house of love. It’s a recent embellishment, left by caring souls who clearly felt the place hadn’t enough love already. I guess they’re right...
Flugplatz Johannisthal, or Johannisthal Airfield, has been shown very little love in recent years, or even since the days it was forced to play second fiddle to Tempelhof to the west.
Opened 106 years ago to the day on Sept. 26, 1909, Johannisthal was the world’s second oldest motor airfield by one year, beaten to first place by the August-Euler-Flugplatz in Darmstadt.
It was initially called Motorflugplatz Johannisthal-Adlershof, I guess to differentiate it from Tempelhof where they were flying balloons and airships, Ferdinand von Zeppelin’s Luft-Züge (air-trains) and things like that.
These were the days! Flight was in its infancy, exciting! They hadn’t killed the fun by making you take your shoes off at the airport or forcing you to queue for hours to give the illusion of security. And Ryanair didn’t even exist back then. It must have been fantastic.
People used to flock to Johannisthal to see these marvelous metal contraptions in action. There was room on the main terminal building for 2,300 spectators, and for 1,750 on another tribune. To help finance the airfield they were charged admission, but many simply hopped the fence and got in without paying (tsk tsk) and were then posing a risk to the flying machines they were coming to see.
Apparently airfield director Major Georg von Tschudi was outraged because most people were coming just to see the crashes, which were often fatal, and then helping themselves to what bits of aircraft they could find for souvenirs. It must have been brilliant!
The fringes of the airfield were a hive of activity too, with different companies based in various garages and hangers constructing aircraft and/or offering flight lessons. Firms like Fokker, Albatros Flugzeugwerke GmbH, AGO and the Luft-Verkehrsgesellschaft were based here.
Germany’s first female aviator, Amelie “Melli” Beese, is synonymous with Johannisthal from this time. Apparently nobody wanted to teach her how to fly because she was a woman until she managed to persuade one Robert Thelen to do so. He quit after a crash due to a mechanical problem on her second flight but she returned to Johannisthal and got her license on Sept. 13, 1911, her 25th birthday, despite other aviators’ best efforts to sabotage her plane.
Beese showed them, the fuckers, and went on to set a number of height and endurance records. She also founded her own flying school with the help of Charles Boutard and Hermann Reichelt, Flugschule Melli Beese GmbH, and she even built her own plane, the Beese-Taube (Beese Pigeon).
She married Boutard and took French citizenship, which led to all sorts of problems later on. Beese and Boutard designed a flying boat, but it was destroyed by the authorities when they were declared enemies of the state with the outbreak of the First World War.
Besse shot herself on Dec. 22, 1925. The note she left behind said, “Flying is essential, living is not.”
Others felt the same – they had to or flying would never have got off the ground – and airships also played their part at Johannisthal. The first Parseval airship hanger was built in 1910 for Luft-Fahrzeug-Gesellschaft (LFG), which constructed all of August von Parseval’s designs. The 75-meter hall initially housed a Parseval PL6 that used to float adverting messages through the Berlin sky at night. Images were projected onto its hull by a projector.
Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmbH built another giant hall beside it the following year, 160 meters long, for two Zeppelin airships, and different airships used to land and take off from Johannisthal, including a Schütte-Lanz-Luftschiff SLII, apparently one of the most impressive at the time.
A LZ18 Zeppelin belonging to the German Navy caught fire and exploded above Johannisthal on Oct. 17, 1913, with the loss of life of everyone on board. It was a major setback for the navy’s airship program, coming as it did just weeks after the Helgoland Island air disaster, in which its LZ14 Zeppelin crashed into the North Sea.
What goes up must come down so it proved for the magnificent-looking hangers too. The Parseval hanger burned down in January 1915 as the First World War was underway and the other was demolished in 1921 due to the conditions of the post-war Versailles treaty, which prohibited Germany’s use of military aircraft.
Only civilian flights were allowed and Johannisthal had Germany’s first air passenger service in 1919 to Weimar. But the airfield’s demise began with the decision to construct a proper airport in Tempelhof, which opened in 1923 and nabbed all the civilian flights.
After that Johannisthal was mostly used for military purposes. Once the Nazis came to power, the Germans used it for testing as the army was sneakily rearmed before the Second World War. Well, that war didn’t work out too well either, and the Russians took over after that.
Soviet armed forces used Johannisthal briefly before upping sticks to Schönefeld in 1952. With Tempelhof now in West Berlin, it was Schönefeld’s turn to become Johannisthal’s chief tormentor. The more Schönefeld was built up, the less important Johannisthal became as an airfield.
As flying activity dwindled, other more grounded ventures took over. Fridges for example. I know it’s not flying, it’s not pushing boundaries or the limits of human endurance, but fridges are cool, man.
VEB Kühlautomat was founded in April 1950 to make commercial and industrial cooling equipment, or refrigerators as Americans like to call them, in the area on the edge of the main airfield.
They made huge fridges for boats, East German fishing vessels trawling for contaminated fish in the Baltic. They also made engines for the Deutsche Reichsbahn after merging with VEB Motorenwerk in 1968. Some 2,500 people worked for the company at its peak.
Everything was chilled until Mauerfall put an end to it all. All successful East German enterprises were snapped up for a pittance by West German counterparts and the rest were told to go to hell – and so it was with VEB Kühlautomat, which was sold in 1994 to a firm from Bochum and relocated over the next couple of years to Reinickendorf.
Flugplatz Johannisthal itself was officially closed down for good in 1995. Now it’s a park, ironically sharing Tempelhof’s fate. They can laugh about it now, the old airports, they’ve put their differences aside. But in contrast to Tempelhof, which has valiantly opposed any development, Johannisthal has partly made way for a science and technology park, including some campuses belonging to Humboldt University.
Most of the former airfield is left to contemplate what could have been. The park is pretty boring, well off the beaten track, appreciated only by goats, birds, beetles, and locals walking their dogs. Even the dogs seem bored. The wasteland, well, it’s a waste, crumbling and stumbling from one day to the next as the memory of those flying pioneers grows fainter. If ever a place needed a house of love...

What
Flugplatz Johannisthal and the remnants of its hangars and subsequent industrial area, a park and wasteland these days. It was the world’s second oldest airfield but now it wallows in despair, overseen and forgotten in favor of other trendier and more popular former airports.

Where
There’s no address anymore seeing as it doesn’t exist anymore. If you look up “Ehemal. Flugfeld Johannisthal” you’ll find it.
The industrial wasteland is at Segelfliegerdamm 15, 27, 41 and a few other numbers, 12487 Berlin.

How to get there

If you’re on foot, take the S-Bahn to Schöneweide and walk from there. It’s a good long walk. I recommend bringing your bike and skipping the walking. The S-Bahnhof at Betriebsbahnhof Schöneweide is actually closer but for some practical reasons known only to German bridge operators, the bridge over the tracks is closed so your only option is to walk back almost to S-Bhf Schöneweide or Adlershof to cross there. So just take the train to Schöneweide, turn right out of the station, then right onto Sterndamm, left onto Groß-Berliner Damm until you get to Segelfliegerdamm. You’re dammed if you do and dammed if you don’t. Keep walking (or cycling) till you see the Polizei on the right. Your industrial wasteland and park behind is to your left. Here’s a map to help ensure a happy landing.

Getting in

Walk past the sports facilities, turn left around the back of them until you find the fence. Find the hole or part of the fence you can lift up and hop in.

When to go

Daytime is best for seeing where you’re going and avoiding injury. Nighttime if you want a party, though remember the Polizei are just across the road. If you’re too loud they’ll be all over you like an infatuated rash.

Difficulty rating

3/10. A bit awkward to get to in a part of Berlin nobody normally visits. Easy enough when you get there.

Who to bring

Bring your girlfriend/boyfriend if you want to propose at the House of Love. Bring your friends if you want to have a party.

What to bring

Beer of course! I can’t believe I have to write this every time. You should know by now that when it comes to these types of places they don’t have Spätis on site, or normally even nearby. Bring your own booze if you want to drink there, your own food if you want to eat. Camera, torch, compass, mosquito spray and crocodile traps are optional accessories of varying practicality.

Dangers
You need to keep an eye out for the Polizei across the road, and of course any other nosy neighbors who might be around. Some of the buildings in the industrial area are still in use so watch out for workers and their noisy machines. You’ll hear them before they see you. If anyone asks, just tell them you’re looking for the departure gates.


The old photos above are from the Bundesarchiv. Dates and photographer names are in the little captions.

Vielen Dank an Henry Lukas für den Tipp! Thanks also to Mark Rodden for casting his eye over the copy. Any typos or glaring errors are his fault.
WWII 5268182353445268731

10 comments

We went there yesterday, it was amazing !
It's really not far from the train station (5-10 min with bike), and unmissable when your near.
The hole is still there. Easy to get in.
The airfield is absolutely big, lots to see, even if there is not much furnitures left.
We stayed for more than an hour, make great pictures. With this autumn weather and the yellow trees, it's quite beautiful.
There were workers there, with big trucks, probably evacuating rubbles. We avoided them, and found no trace of security. I think it's easier to come during the weekend.
Thanks for the tip, I warmly recommend !

I was there last Saturday in the afternoon. There were construction workers at the southern end of the airfield, but no trace of security. As long as you avoid the construction workers you should be safe. The airfield is pretty huge. I stayed there for 3 hours. Enjoy!

I went there yesterday and spent the whole afternoon there. I bumped into a fellow explorer who told me that his father worked here more than 30 years ago. He clarified that this place is not the former airfield but the former VEB Kühlautomat Berlin. The airfield used to be right next to it. The area of it is now covered with buildings and parts of the airfield was converted into the Landschaftspark Johannisthal.

Was there yesterday for a couple of hours - this place is really big!! Highlight of the trip was a big red fox running right by us when we was eating our lunch!! However I suspect that the Fox told on us, since we was caught by a security guard later on telling us to leave... DAMN YOU FOX! Also if anyone is in Berlin atm hit me up at skumfidusen@gmail.com and let's go explore!

I was there last Tuesday. The place is amazing, highly recomended. I feelt like a Fallout player but in real life!!

Was there on saturday for three hours. Don't bother getting in by the front door hiding from workers... just walk 50 meters more and go round the football fields, there is an easy access to the site. People just walking around. Great place, really big with a lot to explore, but not much left to see from the old days. Just buildings and empty rooms with broken windows...

I went there yesterday. It was actually my first visit at an abandoned place after admiring all the amazing reports on this page!!!

Getting in was as easy as described, the open fence is an invitation for beginners like me. No security, but there were some tyre tracks on the ground. Unfortunately someone sprayed "GRAVE" in big letters on the House of Love, maybe it fits to the location's sad condition. I was a bit afraid of the DDR-watchtower area – you never know if there are still any landmines left. I didn't enter any buildings and left after maybe 45 minutes... I was alone and it was my very first time.

However - after my visit at the Flugplatz I went to Spindlersfeld to walk around the former Spindler-Werke. I was kind of surprised that I couldn't find any report on this page. Maybe a location to add on your list – since they are planning to renovate it soon?

Visited today. Following the directions listed above, when we arrived to where the hole in the fence was meant to be (across the street from the Police station) it seemed like it was sealed off with new fence, and there were also several men working in that part of the park, so we figured it wouldn't be the best place to enter.

Undeterred, we walked around the perimeter until we came to an open gate on Gross-Berliner-Dam and simply walked in. While a worker saw us, he didn't say anything and we found a gap in another fence that let us into the area with all the abandoned buildings. From there it was plain sailing, and the only others we encountered were fellow explorers.

Pretty interesting spot, definitely worth a visit

Was there von Semptember, 7th and its more like a jungle. Buildungs are pretty washed up and always thought of Eurythmics walking on broken glass. But its still a nice place to be and take some photos.

I was there on a Saturday two weeks ago (for the second time). The fence on the southern side had collapsed completely- so it was very easy to get in.

Inside however, I encountered the caretaker of the area. He was driving around in a white van and kicked me out. He was threatening with the police and with pressing charges if I upload any of the photos I had taken.
So try to avoid him!

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