When Count Zeppelin’s airship landed on the outskirts of Nuremberg in 1909 and the field became forever known as The Zeppelin Field little did anyone suspect what would end up being built there. Well now, as you may have gathered from past stories, we are very fortunate to manage to get to Germany on a reasonably regular basis to check out the G-reg balloons that live there and we do try and plan it, with the help of lovely family Grunaeur, to coincide with a town celebration or two. This years’ visit took in Father’s Day (again) where we are now regulars! We’ve described this beer driven event before so we thought we’d focus on something else in our hectic schedule that was a little different. Last time out we were invited by retired Citation pilot Gunther to visit his Motorcycle Club but we ran out of hours and only made it as far as the local bike rally. The offer still stood so that was definitely on the cards although John seemed a bit reluctant. The thing was though that we were booked to fly to Nuremberg Airport (or is it Nuremborg or even Nurnberg with dots over the ‘u’?) courtesy of Ryanair. Now, I suggested to John that as this was the home to some quite astonishing buildings and the home of the Nazi Party Rallies maybe we could have a quick shuftee on the way back to Schwaebisch Hall. He rolled his eyes in that ‘its to early too contemplate’ sort of way and ordered two bacon sandwiches and teas from Stanstead Wetherspoons which weren’t quite as cheap as their High Street equivalents!
We flew out at quarter past stupid o’clock in the morning having left rural Wendover in rain and drizzle at even earlier stupid muppet hour. The only upside was that the drive was straightforward with no hold-ups and only a few cars about, lovely. The flight was uneventful and involved mainly sleeping and ignoring offers of the Ryanair cuisine, not really duty free and raffle tickets until the dah-de-dah tune proclaiming another ‘on time’ flight woke us. Strolling, almost ignored, through the customs control at Nuremberg it soon became apparent that this is a very underused airport. Very modern and new but no-one is there. Carle was though bless him, to collect us, and explained that it hadn’t really caught on and only had a handful of movements a day. That’ll be Ryanair for you, Berlin (Nuremberg) no doubt. I had no idea how to ask Karle if we could go and look at the old Nazi parade ground or what his reaction would be but, nevertheless, it had to be done. All the pictures and images I’d ever seen were pretty awesome and we were very close. John pretended not to hear my request. Choosing to ask if we could go and have a look at the Zeppelin Field, rather than the Nazi Rally Grounds, Karle just smiled and explained it was no problem, the last time he’d been there was to see the Rolling Stones. Smooth. A taxi driver provided a clue to the best route from the airport and we were off.
I had no idea what to expect but many years ago (early seventies) we used to deal with an electrical motor re-winding firm in Wembley and amongst the units and factories that surrounded Wembley Stadium were the remains of some of the 1924 British Empire Exhibition Pavilions. They took a bit of spotting and were in a sad state of repair. I think the electric motor company used a bit of the African, or possibly Indian Pavilion, as it had elephants in relief each side of the doorway. Maybe they were palm trees, perhaps it was the Hall of Art, I can’t remember now. Anyway, despite their dereliction the buildings were awesome impressive concrete structures, full of bravado and designed to echo the sentiment of the Exhibition which was to ‘enable all who owe allegiance to the British flag to meet on common ground and learn to know each other.’ Today only a part of the Palace of Industry remains, however it is still a very powerful structure which, since the Listed Building status was removed some years ago, is now due for demolition to provide car parking. So it was along these lines that I had this image of the Nuremberg buildings, absorbed into Nuremberg’s trading estates but still substantial. As for the state of mind I’d end up in I had no idea. The place was bound to have a strange, and probably uncomfortable, atmosphere. Maybe it seemed a bit foreboding.
As we drove down Regensburger Strasse little did we realise that to our starboard lie the enormous area that once made up the Rally Grounds until suddenly, as we turned right, the huge concrete structure that was now a Burger King clearly showed signs that it had once sported a huge Swastika and Eagle on the end wall. It turned out this was once the Transformer Station that supplied power to the Zeppelin Rally Field. Then we were there, parking in a broad tree-lined road, it was all rather confusing. For the first time in many a year I couldn’t really get me bearings. We had come in down the side of the thing, a row of blockhouses with overgrown stairs between that filed away in front of us, the main Grandstand with the Golden Hall atop stretched away at right angles. You can’t take it all in at once it was that big and it appeared it was fenced off but signs stating that you ‘Enter at your own risk’ invited us in. To say it is impressive or huge or awe-inspiring are all not quite right. Actually its not big, it is massive, but out of context now with the parade ground sporting fences, trees and grass it isn’t relevant. Its scale serves no purpose. We climbed up the decaying crumbling steps of the Main Grandstand to the top and then walked back down from the door of the Golden Hall to the podium, just as Hilter and his cronies must have done, looking out across its vastness trying to get some idea of what was going on but nothing was. Its strange to say that although you see pictures and films of the man ranting at the masses, reviewing his troops or watching elaborate staged shows, there is no atmosphere, not even a sense of history, somehow. It is strange but for me there was nothing emotional one way or the other about it. It was an elaborate stage set that is now crumbling. Its not signposted or on the tourist trial, there are a few signboards explaining a little about it but perhaps it is something that is simply just too big to knock down.
Today it has Historic Building status but there is no money and, more likely, no inclination to carry out anything but very basic preservation work. A very tricky mainly political problem. There were a few tourists having a brief guided tour and a semi-naked girl sunbathing on the steps but apart from marvel at the scale of it, that is all there is to it. What does really start to puzzle you is when you start playing the numbers game. Bear in mind that the O2 caters for a crowd of 20,000. At the Zeppelin Field figures vary but it seems that upwards of 240,000 spectators filled the public stands and in the region of 100,000 participants paraded and gathered below. That’s an awful lot of people to cater for, house and clean up after. The block houses that surrounded it and helped support the tiers of seats had searchlights and flagpoles on the top and toilet facilities within. At night they would all be turned on and a Cathedral of Light be created. Some referred to it as the Cathedral of Ice. It must have been pretty spectacular but now the whole mega structure is very quietly falling to bits the tiers of seating on three sides grassing over. One of the toilet blocks once appeared to be the home of a local bike gang but was now abandoned. Says it all really. Where, we mused, were all the workers, performers and spectators housed? The railway brought a lot in and no doubt special trains were laid on but the scale of the thing and the numbers of people involved is just unbelievable. Red Square in Moscow is somewhat similar in that it held Rallies and huge military parades but that is the most unpleasant evil place I have ever been in.
This wasn’t, it wasn’t anything. I wonder, if they ever abandoned Disneyworld and then did nothing with it this how it would end up? Perhaps if the colonnades that flanked the Golden Hall (blown up in 1967) were still there or if the massive flanking walls of the Grandstand were still in place it would be any different? If the huge Swastika hadn’t been blown up by the Americans in 1945 and was still towering above the Golden Hall that would probably be a bit disconcerting but, however I considered it, I can only think that the scale is so big it can’t be worked out. Yep, it’s the scale that is the problem.
When Albert Speer designed it, based on the Pergamon Altar in Pergamon, Turkey (most of which ended up in Berlin strangely enough) he wrote that, “To illustrate my ideas I had a romantic drawing prepared. It showed what the reviewing stand on the Zeppelin Field would look like after generations of neglect, overgrown with ivy, its columns fallen, the walls crumbling here and there, but the outlines still clearly recognizable. In Hitler’s entourage this drawing was regarded as blasphemous. That I could even conceive of a period of decline for the newly founded Reich destined to last a thousand years seemed outrageous to many of Hitler’s closest followers. But he himself accepted my ideas as logical and illuminating. He gave orders that in the future the important buildings of his Reich were to be erected in keeping with the principles of this ‘law of ruins’ “
Well he was nearly right, by 1955 it was already a ruin, overgrown and desolate, but it will never be romantic and its barely 75 years old. Say what you like about Speer but he did have a mighty vision and, fair play to him, he got some of it built but at a huge cost. I’m sure many would find the place full of ‘atmosphere’, possibly evil, but maybe its because the site itself has remained unfinished, was partially bombed to rubble and the building work stopped at the outbreak of the war and now it has somewhat involuntarily turned into the Wembley Complex after the end of the British Empire Exhibition but then not been engulfed almost immediately by industry or redevelopment. Fear after the end of the War probably kept people away now it’s the inquisitive that come to see. Certainly it is a strange place.
Seeing the Rolling Stones perform there must have been great and I bet the atmosphere was brilliant. Perhaps that is what has happened, a status quo has been arrived at and now the place doesn’t know what to do with itself. Perhaps the O2 will befall the same fate when the roof starts leaking and it has to be determined what to do with it next. We wandered back to the car a tad perplexed. I glanced back hoping to have a stab of conscience trying to find what I’d missed or get a bout of deep feeling but I didn’t, it just still looked simply enormous and derelict. The sun was shining as we headed out of Nuremberg, or however they spell it, and we were late. It had left an impression on me. Like the Pyramids to appreciate the scale of it you have to see it. I intend to go back one of these days to see the unfinished Congress Hall which is, by all accounts, really enormous. As for the really, really enormous planned Stadium, they only got the footings dug and today they are a lake! To see what the stands would look like they built a mock up on the side of a large hill.
At the airport at Schwaebisch there were aircraft everywhere business jets of every type came and went gliders soared and a microlight buzzed round and round doing touch and goes using about a tenth of the runway. John wondered if he could shoot it down. This was a busy airport, Karle reckoned you could probably get a 737 in but it was unlikely that Ryanair would be allowed to use the place. Shame, we’ll just have to save up and buy a Lear Jet. We checked out Action Man deemed him past his sell by date and he was retired. Everything else was fine. A couple of hours and a fine picnic later, once again courtesy of Andrea, and we were done in. As we left for a drink a Citation climbed into the setting sun heading for Eire, the pilot was due to fly back that evening on a scheduled flight then back out the following Monday to pick it and its passenger up. Nice job.
We had met Gunther a few years ago at the notorious Black Propeller watching contraband being unloaded from an unidentified Mitsubishi twin, engines running under the glare of a spoltlight. He’d done some stuff aviation wise and ended up as a training and check pilot for Citations and some other fancy executive twins. He’d flown in and out of most European Airports and now retired he drove a rudely hugely engined Mercedes saloon rather enthusiastically. His other passion was motorcycles and he does have a very fine collection.
Now the Germans do clubs extremely well and his was no exception. There was a kitchen, club room, pizza oven, games room and very large fridge from which bottles of fine German beer were extracted. John was born again and almost started to enjoy the bikes, tractors, cars and miscillaneous stuff that filled the place. There were Zundapps, DKWs and all those weird and wonderful post war German bikes in bits or perched on trailers. There were also a large number of rather large Harleys. Now I do admit to not being a Harley fan and have always taken full advantage to poke fun and ridicule at them but these Harleys also had very big, mainly tattooed, owners so I decided a bit of entente lime cordial would be best. “What lovely shiny things they are”, I spouted, ‘So practical”. They were on a run down through Switzerland and back the following day and they had all decided to accept the hospitality of Gunther’s Club to rest up and carry out a last bit of maintenance. ‘Ongoing’, I would have said in a former life! Indeed a Fat B’stard thingy, not unlike the dreadful yellow thing we had in for repair some years ago, had a fair amount of the primary chaincase off. It had clutch problems. We knew all about that and decided to set about and assist. The beer helped as did the German/English language barrier. “Here”, said Gunther, “There ist more stuff in the other buildings and I haf got ein MV Augusta somewhere.” We were off like a shot and sure enough there were more VW Beetles, Golfs another big Mercedes along with bikes various everywhere. It was quite astonishing but apparently the chap that owned the farm loved machinery so every bit of the place was given over to things mechanical. The old dairy was opened up and there, completely original, in need of tlc was an MV Augusta 600 four. Amazing. It was going to be restored but we tried talking him into just getting it back on the road in Oily Rag trim but I fear that is not the way of this Club.
What a set up they have. There are specialist areas where the restorations are carried out and everything is clean and reasonably tidy as you would expect. Time was moving on and we had to up at sparrows’ again for the Fathers’ Day brewery opening so we bade a fond adieu wishing the Harley boys a nice journey. I expect we’d hear them set off the following day!
On to the Fathers’ Day Brewery Morning. This is already well documented as a not to be missed event so I won’t go on about again suffice to say the brass band this year were accompanied by some very, very front row enthusiastic German singers as in on the tables, on the chairs and on the floor! We of course forced our way to the front and joined in. Brilliant, lost me voice for a few hours as a result. Not that sure what we were singing about or what happened after that or the order it happened in but we did go for a very fine meal in a huge barn of a restaurant that only opens every so often and the menu is what you get, basically a very big piece of meat accompanied by chips and helped down with lashings of fine local beer. At some stage in the proceedings we travelled out of town and had a tour around Wolfgang’s mill that he has recently purchased. Apparently his fence marked the start of The Black Forest! It was looking increasingly likely that Mr Ryan would have a couple of empty seats if we weren’t careful. We were though and next morning, following an interesting breakfast in a posh industrial café, that served tea in a strange way, we managed to get delivered back to Nuremberg in time to enjoy the still deserted viewing balcony and watch not much going on the apron. Karle and Gaby eventually tore themselves away from the excitement and bade us a fond farewell and we adjourned to the equally deserted bar where the staff were having lunch. We’ll have to do a guide like what we did for Cuneo as it will take too long now but we did spend an hour watching a bloke in a roadsweeper brush both the ‘c’s’ out of concrete, most likely the same one our 737 taxied round when we arrived, and a coach that made an unscheduled landing. This airport is brilliantly not in the least bit interested, it simply has a complete lack of interest in its purpose which is sort of refreshing. In fact it is the most underused airport that I have ever been to or through. When the barmaid fell asleep at the counter we knew it was time to board our flight which turned out to have been delayed but no one seemed to be too bothered or maybe they just didn’t notice.
http://www.tracesofevil.com/ Interesting site
http://www.kubiss.de/kulturreferat/reichsparteitagsgelaende/englisch/stationen.htm very thorough guide to the Rally Grounds and the buildings.