Forty German aircraft, plus exhibits narrating two centuries of aviation history, are displayed in a two-story addition to the German Museum of Technology in Berlin that was to have opened Saturday.
Sprawling over more than 64,000 square feet, the exhibit shows off one of the world's largest collections of historic German aircraft, said Holger Steinle, who heads the museum's air and space department.
Highlights include a Jeannin Stahltaube, one of the oldest German planes, built in 1914 and briefly used for reconnaissance in World War I; a 1941 Junkers Ju 52, nicknamed "Tante Ju" (Aunt Ju), a workhorse of commercial aviation; and a 1940 Klemm KL 35, owned in the 1950s and '60s by Liesel Bach, one of Germany's best female acrobatics pilots.
Berlin was once home to the world's largest aviation museum, with more than 100 historic planes. During World War II, the collection was dispersed to outlying areas to elude the Allied bombing of Berlin. But most of the planes were destroyed anyway during fierce battles on the Russian front, Steinle said; most of the survivors went to a museum in Krakow, Poland.
It wasn't until the 1970s that Germany began trying to rebuild its collection. When Steinle joined the museum in 1985, he said, "I had difficult but interesting work ahead." German aircraft were rare, and collectors were loath to give them up.
So the German museum got creative, agreeing to restore other institutions' aircraft in return for obtaining one or two. That's how it acquired a 1937 Horten all-wing glider from the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. The Horten, prized for its perfect aerodynamics, had been captured by Americans in 1945 and sent to the Smithsonian.
Besides aircraft, the new exhibit offers historic audio and film material, recollections of aviation pioneers and engineers, a reconstruction of the entrance to Germany's first airfield and artifacts such as trophies and copper etchings.
The exhibit, titled "From Ballooning to the Berlin Airlift," doesn't ignore Germany's militaristic history. From 1909 to 1945, only about 10,000 of the more than 200,000 aircraft that Germany made were for commercial use, Steinle said. The displays cover the experiences of bomb victims and inmates of World War II concentration camps who were forced to work on missile production lines.
Admission to the German Museum of Technology is about $5.80 for adults and about $3.25 for children. It is open Tuesdays through Sundays; hours vary. Information: 011-49-3090-2540, http://www.dtmb.de . (Click on the British flag symbol in the upper right corner for English text.)