Liebe Grüße from the world’s second oldest airfield

You wouldn’t expect to find love in a hopelessly thrashed industrial wasteland awaiting final collapse opposite a police station. But there, in the remnants of a former airfield, you could find a whole house of love. It was a recent embellishment, left by caring souls who clearly felt the place hadn’t enough love already.

Flugplatz Johannisthal, or Johannisthal Airfield, had been shown very little love in recent years, ever since it was forced to play second fiddle to Tempelhof.

One of the world’s first motor airfields when it opened on Sept. 26, 1909, Johannisthal was apparently only beaten by Darmstadt’s August-Euler-Flugplatz, which opened the year before.

It was initially called Motorflugplatz Johannisthal-Adlershof, presumably to differentiate it from Tempelhof, where they were already flying balloons and airships, Ferdinand von Zeppelin’s Luft-Züge (air-trains) and anything else they could find to get off the ground.

Those were the days! Flight was still in its infancy and 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. Ryanair didn’t even exist. It must have been fantastic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

People used to flock to Flugplatz Johannisthal to see these marvelous metal contraptions actually fly. Imagine it, the thrill! There was room on the main stand for 2,300 spectators, and 1,750 on another tribune.

Spectators were charged admission to help finance the airfield, but plenty simply hopped the fence and got in without paying. (Berliners never change.) So many showed up that they posed 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 whatever bits of aircraft they could find for souvenirs. Poor Georg. Das geht überhaupt nicht!

The fringes of the airfield were a hive of activity too, with different companies based in various garages and hangars 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 World War I.

Besse shot herself on Dec. 21, 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 hangar 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.

The Parseval hangar burned down in January 1915 as World War I 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. Germany’s first air passenger service started from Johannisthal to Weimar, though there were only around 4,000 newspapers on board the first flight on Feb. 5, 1919. There was post on board, too, the next day.

The passenger service started a few months later, with German president Friedrich Ebert apparently among the first guests. They weren’t made very comfortable as the planes were old military aircraft and passengers had to wear gloves, scarves, hats and goggles to keep the wind chill away.

The Johannisthal 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 World War II. Well, that one 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 Berlin 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 Johannisthal in 1968. Some 2,500 people worked for the company at its peak.

Everything was chilled until Mauerfall put an end to it all. Nearly all the successful East German enterprises were snapped up for next to nothing by West German counterparts after the fall of the Berlin Wall. So it was with VEB Kühlautomat, 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 thus far, 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 great flying pioneers grows ever fainter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LOCATION AND ACCESS (HOW TO FIND GUIDE)

Flugplatz Johannisthal Abandoned Berlin 4756
  • What: Flugplatz Johannisthal and the remnants of its hangars and subsequent industrial area, a park and wasteland these days. It claims to be 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. 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.

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.

Photos (2015)

Photos (2019-20)

Filed 26/9/2015 | Updated 29/5/2020

Other forgotten airfields

Tempelhof

Tempelhof

West Berlin’s lifeline during the Soviet Blockade, Tempelhof Airport has since become the city’s biggest park. Berliners will fight to keep it that way.

Flugplatz Schönwalde

Flugplatz Schönwalde

Germany’s Luftwaffe used Flugplatz Schönwalde for the war. The Soviets took over afterward and left their traces after abandoning the airfield in 1992.

Flugplatz Brand

Flugplatz Brand

Flugplatz Brand was strategically important for the Soviet Air Force. Thankfully its battalions of flying fighters remained on ice for the duration of the Cold War.

39 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    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 !

    Reply
  2. Anonymous

    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!

    Reply
  3. Anonymous

    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.

    Reply
  4. Anonymous

    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[at]gmail.com and let’s go explore!

    Reply
  5. Anonymous

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

    Reply
  6. Anonymous

    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…

    Reply
  7. Anonymous

    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?

    Reply
  8. Anonymous

    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

    Reply
  9. Anonymous

    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.

    Reply
  10. Anonymous

    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!

    Reply
  11. Morton

    Was there today, on a sun day there was multiple cars an seen at least one person going into a building. Not a urbexer.plus all the hole’s have been closed up but the fence on the far right of the building but that’s where the car was parked.

    Reply
  12. Tony.is.lost

    Went on a weekday last week through the front gate where there was construction. Fortunately no one was around so I just walked in, there’s a hole in one of the buildings once you’re inside which will take you through into the main part of the airfield.

    Reply
  13. Anonymous

    have been there last weekend. Entrance ist pretty easy at the park close to the football field. Recommend going there at the weekend.

    Reply
  14. Dev

    Went a few days ago. It is a truly amazing place!! There are so many buildings and things to see you can easily spend hours there.
    There is a part of the fence that is easy to climb over right next to the bus stop (very convenient). However, the easiest way to get in is to just go down the path to the park and take a left. You can just stroll right in, no fence at all. If you look up you can follow the big brown tower for reference.
    Saw just one other person there, an older guy riding a bike with a fancy cyclist outfit! There is some construction going on in parts but it’s easy to avoid.
    This place is a must see.

    Reply
  15. Anonymous

    Went there yesterday, still easily accessible and abandoned.

    Reply
  16. joehänson

    Hey there, just went yesterday to do some recordings, Its all still there. You can access if you walk around the east end (coming from north most probably) – just walk around the football field, fence is open. People are walking their dogs and stuff, some people flying their drones, so pretty chill, never had awkward meetings.

    Reply
  17. kranichar

    Thanks to your article we visited the Flugplatz last week and we were very impressed by the scene. No problem to get in. It was a very quiet area and not a single person inside, just us.

    Reply
  18. Anonymous

    We went yesterday.Still all the same as in the comment above! (A guy near Gross-Berlin-Str shouted smth over the fence, bit maybe he didnt talk to us 🙂 )

    Reply
  19. Anonymous

    Went there today and it’s very easy to access from the park to the southwest as the fence has been knocked over. There were loads of different people including some kids and middle aged women walking around. We didn’t know about that entry way and ended up going through the hole in the fence near the football field as described in the comments above. This worked but was so much more difficult as we had to climb through a few sketchy windows and fenced off sections to get to the main area. If possible go in from the park I would say.

    Reply
  20. Adventures WIth Nic

    Went in the other day and it was totally deserted! Agree with the comment below, though the easy way to get in is on the south-east side, not the south west!

    Definitely one of my new safe and easy abandoned places in Berlin to do some cool photography and videography! Here is the current state of it – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kDZe8wEsj7Y

    Reply
    • Spudnik

      Good work Nic! Thanks for sharing!

      Reply
  21. Anonymous

    Visited today around 8 am, very much worth it to check out. Some construction workers near the front gate and on the south west side. I rode my bike through the open gate off Segelfliegerdamm and a worker told me to go around, which I did to success lol.

    Reply
  22. Anonymous

    Wanted to do a video shoot there today. When we checked out the location once on a tuesday, there were just a few people, it was very relaxed. Today (sunday) afternoon, we did not get far. A security guy caught us right at the entrance (south-east, where it is really easy to get in) and kicked us out. He was unpleasent and told us he will get the poliece if we won’t go. Well, he was out there for a while and kicked out some other people…Unfortunately we could not get in any more today.

    Reply
  23. Daffy

    Been here yesterday… the biggest spot in my urbex-life… it was worth it… but some buildings cant reach cause the workers are demolishing it… shame…

    Reply
  24. Lucky

    went there yesterday and got immediately catched by the guard. there was no one around when we went in so I assume they have cameras somewhere. He came so fast with his van as if he already knew where too look for us. luckily he let us go.

    Reply
  25. Anonymous

    Went in today. From the west side, go past the football fields and there’s plenty of fences that are down and you basically have to walk in. We previous managed to sneak thru the main road with the gate but there are workers even on a Sunday. It was good for an adrenaline rush but not worth it as there’s no obvious way to get to the good side of the Flugplatz. Just save yourself the hustle and around the full perimeter until you find an abandoned part of the fence near the parks.

    Reply
  26. Fencesitter

    Quite tricky to get in now, as the fence on the southeastern side has been repaired and reinforced recently. Security in the area is on its toes and patrolling the area. The guy was nice enough to let us go without further trouble though. The buildings are magnificient, but if you go there, be aware of the possibility to run into guards.

    Reply
  27. JustExplore211

    What a thrill! We were there 2 weeks ago on a Saturday and there is definitely a lot going on at the site. We heard several construction vehicles and saw cars driving around the main entrance. We also heard dogs! We could make out three construction sites: One at the main entrance and two in the northern area, but all close to the Segelfliegerdamm.
    We were able to find a hole in the southern fence about 100 metres after the sports field if you follow the fence from the Segelfliegerdamm. From there we went in and tiptoed from building to building, always trying to keep one building away from the construction sites. This way we were able to explore two thirds of the site without getting caught. We didn’t see anyone, only heard noises from the construction sites. In the end, we disappeared again unnoticed. It was definitely worth the risk. Incredibly beautiful buildings.

    Reply
    • Spudnik

      Wow, you certainly got around! Thanks a million for all your updates!!

      Reply
  28. Kevin

    Went there yesterday (08.08.2021) – Still easy accessable through one of the holes in the fence near the sports/football fields. The site is huge and there are a lot of buildings to check out. Don’t be distracted from the barking dog as it seems, that he only protects one of the company buildings nearby. On the fence it says that there is video surveillance, but we haven’t noticed anything. Because it was sunday, there were no construction workers around. And always be some steps away from the main street, because you can easily be seen from there. All in all a beautiful place. Check it until it gets demolished!

    Reply
  29. Flora

    Been here this morning. Easy acces, keep your eyes open here and there cause of nearby construction. But no worries it is safe and sound, have fun exploring

    Reply
  30. Anonymous

    23.04.22 Report! South-east near the football fields easy access through a hole in the fence. Saw some workers driving around the premise (saturday). Saw plenty of other explorers. Seems super easy to go around. I love it!

    Reply
    • Anonymous

      South-west! Not South east. My bad!

      Reply
    • Anonymous

      The hole in the gate is at 52°26’29.3″N 13°30’49.8″E south west

      Reply
  31. Alex

    As of today, Sunday, everything is preserved and there are no security or workers around. The fence is bent down exactly at the location indicated bellow, plus at the entrance here 52.4420631,13.5168645,21z

    Reply
  32. Fint

    Seems to be new fencing up, but there’s a gap close to the above coordinates that you can slip through.

    Reply
  33. Bob

    Heavy demolishing is taking place. If you want to visit, go soon.

    Reply
  34. Adrian

    I was there today. The workers are in the process of tearing down the building. There are bags of asbestos there, so maybe bring an FFP 3 mask. I didn’t, so maybe im fucked. We will see.

    Reply
    • AB

      I hope not, Adrian! Thanks for the update.

      Reply

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