Berlin and its immediate surroundings have always been at the forefront of german aeronautical innovation and are steeped in history. Germany’s first Airport opened in (the now Berlin district of) Johannisthal in 1909, the first “stealth” aircraft were tested in Oranienburg, and the first non stop Berlin – New York flight took off from the Staaken Airport in 1938 (and achieved it in record time). It should come as a surprise that Berlin and its immediate surroundings once had over 12 Airports (and Airfields) – and one of them – the Flugplatz Rangsdorf has a particularly interesting history.
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The origins of the Reichssportflughafen in Rangsdorf date back to early 1935, when the German Reichsluftfahrtministerium decided that it was necessary to build a new Airport and Seaplane Base 30 kilometers outside of Berlin as a flight school as well as a base for the planned air sports events for the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
The Reichsluftfahrtministerium acquired a large plot of land from the local community on the southern edge of the city, located along the eastern banks of the Rangsdorfer See. The lucrative construction project attracted some well known and soon to become well known names in the design industry – among them Herbert Rimpl.
The architect Herbert Rimpl was a relatively early member of the Nazi party – having joined on the 1st of April, 1933. By 1934, he had become lead construction engineer at the Heinkel Werke, until he was invited by Carl Clemens Bücker (more on him below) in 1935 to lead the design and construction project of the Bücker Werke at the Flugplatz Rangsdorf.
From 1937 until the end of the war, Rimpl was the Chief Architect for the Herman Göring Werke – one of the three largest industrial state conglomerates, as well as joining the staff of Albert Speer in 1944. Some of his more well known “works” included the design and construction of the so called “U-Verlagerung” (underground factories) – specifically the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp which focused on the production of V1 and V2 rockets.
The lead planner for the Flugplatz Rangsdorf project was Otto Meyer-Ottens who had previously been Walter Gropius’ chief architect . Rounding off the trio was Ernst Sagebiel, who undoubtedly had the longest lasting architectural legacy. Sagebiel was probably one of the most famous german architects under the Nazi regime, having designed not only the Tempelhof Airport (and the eagle what sat atop the building) but also the Reichsluftfahrtministerium, which now houses the german Finance Ministry.
The Bücker Werke
At the same time when construction for the Flugplatz Rangsdorf was announced in 1935, Carl Clemens Bücker – owner of the Bücker Flugzeugbau – used the chance to move his factory from Berlin Johannisthal to Rangsdorf. Bücker was a World War I navy pilot, who had founded his first aircraft company – the Svenska Aero – in 1921 in Lidingö, Sweden. The treaty of versailles initially forbade germany and german companies from building aircraft, or from operating multi engine aircraft, so many manufacturers moved abroad to evade the imposed restrictions.
The Svenska Aero produced licensed aircraft from the Caspar Werke and the popular Heinkel Werke for the Scandinavian market, but also secretly produced several Caspar S1 Seaplanes for the Germany Navy for testing purposes. After the Svenska Aero went bust in 1932, Bücker moved to Berlin and set up the Bücker Flugzeugbau GmbH in Berlin Johannisthal on the 3rd of October 1933. Chief Engineer of the Bücker Flugzeugbau was Anders J. Anderson, who had previously worked with Bücker at Svenska Aero.
Together the pair built the Bü 131 Jungmann, a single engine bi-plane which saw very strong international sales (Spain, Japan, Hungary and Czechoslovakia) and was extremely popular with sports pilots. The German Government ignored the Bü 131 Jungmann though as they considered its 80HP motor too weak for the (not so) secret rearmament of the Luftwaffe.
With the construction of the Flugplatz Rangsdorf, Bücker decided to seize a golden opportunity and moved its headquarters and production facilities to Rangsdorf as well. It was Bücker who then invited the aforementioned Herbert Rimpl (as well as Otto Meyer-Ottens) to design and construct the new Bücker Werke at the Flugplatz Rangsdorf. Upon completion of the new Bücker Flugzeugbau, production of the Bü 131 Jungmann and the Bü 133 Jungmeister. Of course the German government wasn’t unhappy with the prospect of Bücker moving his facilities to the Flugplatz Rangsdorf and even assisted in the move. Who would say no to having an aircraft manufacturer directly at their disposal?
After moving into his new headquarters in Rangsdorf in 1935, Bücker hired the 25 year old Luise Hoffmann as a Test pilot for the Bü 133. Luise Hoffmann, having already gained a pilots license at the age of 17 had earned a reputation for being an extremely skilled pilot (and also being the youngest female pilot at the time).
At the time women were banned in Germany from operating commercial passenger flights, so she had little choice than to accept the position as a test pilot to fund her flying. That said, with her employment at Bücker, she became the first female test pilot in europe. Tragically, she died in November 1935 in a flight accident on her return journey from Romania via Vienna.
Flugplatz Rangsdorf Opens Its Doors
The Reichssportflughafen Rangsdorf officially opened its doors on the 30th of July, 1936 – two days before the opening ceremony of the 1936 Berlin Olympics. It’s worth mentioning that the headquarters of the Aero-Club located next to the Rangsdorfer See (the Flugplatz Rangsdorf was also equipped for water planes) – was designed by Ernst Sagebiel, who would go on to design the Tempelhof Airport (and a whole host of other smaller military airbases).
On its opening day, the Flugplatz Rangsdorf hosted the “Internationale Kunstflugwettbewerb um den Preis der Nation” (The International Aerobatic Competition for the Prize of the Nation). Each nation was allowed to be represented by up to 3 pilots, with each pilot only receiving details of their aerobatic routine two hours before their flight. The best 3 pilots would then show off their routines again on the 31.7.1936 at the Tempelhof Airport. The competition even had an event for female pilots, though all participants were german.
The winners of the 1936 Internationale Kunstflugwettbewerb um den Preis der Nation were the german Graf v. Hagenburg in a Focke-Wulf Stieglitz, followed by the Czechoslovakian Pilot Siroky in an Avia B 122, and in third place another Czechoslovakian Pilot – Novak – in an Avia B 122.
Otto Heinrich Graf von Hagenburg was quite the character. Born as the third son of Prince Otto Heinrich zu Schaumburg-Lippe, Otto (the younger) – at the tender age of 21 served as one board members of the Fahrzeugfabrik AG (also known as FAFAG) – which what a coincidence he along with his father and and two other investors founded.
The company produced a series of small four cylinder cars, though they weren’t very successful and folded 6 years later. While the company was still operating, the FAFAG fielded a race car for the 1923 “small cars” races along the AVUS. Otto was a gifted driver and was leading the pack, but was eliminated early on due to a technical defect with the car.
Otto acquired a pilot’s license in 1929 and later qualified to be a flight instructor. Just like his driving skills, Otto had an immense talent for aerobatic flights was one of the best aerobatic pilots in the world until the outbreak of world war two. By 1938, he had become a testpilot at the Erprobungsstelle Rechlin, and by 1942 had become a supplier for the aircraft industry. After the war he founded a fiberglass company which produced everything from fishing rods to small u boats. He died in 1993 at the age of 92.
The short period between the opening of the Flugplatz Rangsdorf and the outbreak of world war two saw the airport become a hub for a whole host of aeronautical talent and celebrities. Elly Beinhorn, known for her multiple long distance flights as well as her solo flight around the world was based in Rangsdorf and Beate Uhse (né Köstlin) the famed stunt and test pilot (who was also a Hauptmann in the Luftwaffe) learned to fly in Rangsdorf and worked as a pilot for the Bücker Flugzeugbau as well as for the Heinkel Werke in Oranienburg.
The actor Heinz Rühman (one of the most famous german actors of the 20th Century) had his plane based in Rangsdorf, and last but not least – Hermann Göring would also be a frequent guest at the Aero-Club.
A little side trivia: Heinz Rühman starred in the 1941 german comedy “Quax, der Bruchpilot” (Quax the Crash Pilot). The film was immensely popular in germany, and apparently even the Führer was a fan, reportedly having multiple screenings of the movie at the Führerhauptquartier. In the late 1980s, Disney introduced a new character called Launchpad McQuack (DuckTales fans will recognize the character) – who is called Quack der Bruchpilot in the german version, in a not so subtle nod to the 1941 film character.
The Flugplatz Rangsdorf was easy to reach for Berliners, and immediately became a popular day trip destination. A bus service operated on the weekends and shuttled visitors from the “Haus der Flieger” in Berlin (House of the Aviators) to the Aero-Club in Rangsdorf. The Haus der Flieger was housed in the former Prussian House of Representatives, and both the Institution and the building served Hermann Göring as a small “Reichskanzlei”.
The building would later be partially used by the Reichssicherheitshauptamt. During the GDR, it was used as office space for the East German Central Committee, and since 1993 it houses the State Parliament of Berlin.
Rangsdorf like many villages and cities in Berlin’s immediate surrounding had the luck of being graced with a beautiful lake which had attracted Berlins for many years. Rangsdorf was connected to the Berlin Dresden Train line which many day trippers used to get to the lake in the sweltering summers – which had received the name “the lido of south Berlin”. The popularity of the lake was one of the reasons why Rangsdorf was connected to the Berlin S-Bahn in 1940.
Rangsdorf, Bücker and the Second World War
Despite seeing continued commercial success with the Bücker Bü 131, though the Luftwaffe still had little interest in the aircraft, only purchasing small batches of it. The Luftwaffe on the other hand was interested in the Bücker Flugzeugwerke’s production capabilities, and slowly incorporated it into its rearmament programme. By 1936/1937, Bücker was tasked with the licensed production of the Focke-Wulf Fw 44 (a direct competitor of the BÜ 131) as well as the servicing and repair of the Heinkel He 46. Bückers big break came in 1938, when the Luftwaffe sought to replace some of its older training aircraft.
The Bücker Werke designed and built the Bücker Bü 181 Bestmann. a two seater single engine plane. After improving and testing several variations of the Bü 181, the Reichsluftfahrtministerium decided in 1939 that it would adopt the Bestmann as its standard training aircraft. This was a boon for Bücker, as he had developed the Bü 181 at his own cost, and a needed it to be a success.
Demand for the plane was so huge that the Bücker Werke in Rangsdorf had to be expanded in 1940, and several other aircraft manufacturers were forced to produce the model under license. The plane would later be produced under license in Switzerland, Czechoslovakia and Egypt (and a few other countries).
With the outbreak of World War II, the Flugplatz Rangsdorf was converted into a Luftwaffe Airbase, hosting several squadrons, but most notably the Luftverkerhsstaffel. While the Luftverkerhsstaffel was under the command of the Reichsluftfahrtministerium, it was used as a transport and courier service for the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht in Zossen. Some sources also mention that the High Command of the Air force stationed a squadron for secret missions in Rangsdorf – which would later merge into the Kampfgeschwader 200 that was based in the nearby Finow Air Base.
The Nazis were worried that with the outbreak of the war, Tempelhof could become a bombing target. The descision was made on the 3rd of October 1939, that the Flugplatz Rangsdorf would temporarily replace Tempelhof as Berlins main airport. Passengers would check in for their flights in a designated travel agency located in Berlins Friedrichstraße and then be shuttled with a bus to their flights in Rangsdorf. The Lufthansa on the other hand had to move all of its offices to Rangsdorf which was more than just a minor inconvenience for them.
Despite the outbreak of the war, flights by Lufthansa continued more or less uninterrupted to Rome, Prague, Athens, Copenhagen, Danzig and Königsberg (and many other destinations). Even flights to and from Moscow by Lufthansa and Aeroflot started and landed in Rangsdorf by January 1940 (after having been discontinued a few years prior).
After the expected aerial bombardments on the Tempelhof Airport failed to materialize, commercial flights were moved back to Tempelhof by March 1940. For those who would like to hear a little more trivia about the former Tempelhof Airport, I suggest that you give Kreuzberged’s Podcast (Ep.4) a listen.
It’s worth pointing out that the Flugplatz Rangsdorf, neither in its beginning stages, nor as a temporary Tempelhof replacement or Military Air Base ever had a tarmac – only a grass airstrip, which most likely made for quite some bumpy landings.
With the second world war in full swing, the the Bückerwerke focused on the parts production for the Focke-Wulf Fw 190, Junkers Ju 87 (aka Stuka) as well as the radio guided Henschel Hs 293 bomb (the most successful anti ship missile until the development of the french Exocet missile in the early 1970s) – all aided by the extensive use of slave labour from French, Italian and Soviet prisoners of war.
During the early stages of the war, several new buildings were added to both Bücker Werk, most notably a new Einfliegerhalle (Hangar). The original hangar from 1935 burnt down to the ground on the 21st of May 1939 when a trainee pilot left his aircraft and accidentally push the accelerator lever. The unmanned plane drove into the hangar which was filled with 50 fully fueled planes which promptly exploded. Another factory hall – dubbed the “Sonderbauhalle” was added in early 1940 and was partially reserved for building and testing secret constructions..
Operation Valkyrie and Stauffenberg
At 7AM on the 20th of July 1944, Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg and his adjutant Werner von Haeften flew from Rangsdorf to the Führerhauptquartier Wolfsschanze by Rastenburg (now Kętrzyn) in East Prussia to attend a military conference headed by Hitler – with the plan to assassinate him. Stauffenberg had already attended several military conferences at the Wolfschanze with Hitler before, the latest one having been on the 15th of July – though that assasination attempt had been called off.
After planting the bomb and leaving the conference to attend to an urgent call, he (and Haeften) then made their way back to plane to fly back to Rangsdorf. Stauffenberg landed in Rangsdorf at 3:45PM and gave the order to initiate Operation Valkyrie. Most will be familiar how the story went on from here.
Many will be familiar with 2008 movie “Valkyrie” with Tom Cruise playing the “hero” von Stauffenberg, which portrays some of the more well known locations of the time period. The movie shows Stauffenberg landing back in Rangsdorf, though in real life the scene was shot at the Tempelhof Airport, and most people familiar with the city will have instantly recognized it as such. The Flugplatz Rangsdorf wasn’t used as a filming location as its in too bad of a condition.
For those who have seen the movie, there are quite a few recognizable locations, and here are just a few of them: The hospital scene where Stauffenberg is visited by his wife was filmed in the Beelitz Heillstäten (where Hitler was briefly treated during WWI), the headquarters of the Wehrmacht were recreated in the main offices of the Tempelhof Airport, the old officers casino in the abandoned Kaserne Krampnitz was used for a bar scene, and the original Bendlerblock was used for the final execution scene.
Video Walkthrough of the Flugplatz Rangsdorf
The Soviet Military takes over Rangsdorf
With the Red Army advancing ever closer towards Berlin, The Bücker Werk shut down its production on the 20th of April 1945 as the Red Army was advancing ever closer to Berlin. By the 21st of April, the last remaining Luftwaffe aircraft took off from Rangsdorf, heading west, most likely towards the American, British and French troops. On the 22nd of April, 1945 – the Soviet Red Army captured the empty Flugplatz Rangsdorf.
The remaining aircraft parts and tooling machines from the Bücker Werk, as well as three factory halls were completely deconstructed and shipped back to the Soviet Union. As with almost all former Nazi Airfields and Military bases around East Germany, the Soviets decided to get comfortable and moved in for the long haul.
By 1946, a soviet maintenance and repair unit moved into what was left of the Bücker Werk. Initially tasked with repairing aircraft piston engines, and later jet engines – the units stationed at Rangsdorf would focus on repairing and upgrading Mi-1, Mi-2 and Mi-8 Helicopters from the 1970s onwards. Rangsdorf was also briefly used as a military flight school until the mid 1950s, but this seems to have ended around the time when a Signal Unit from the 16th Air Army moved in the western section of the airbase.
The signal unit hat a sizeable chunk of land to themselves and would erect a few buildings on the property some of which one can only speculate about their purpose. We do know that they built a medium sized communications bunker in 1985, as well as a large garage and obligatory sauna.
The old Aero-Club was turned into an Officers Casino, while a new Engine Test Building was constructed next to the Airport Tower. The old barracks were torn down to make space for Soviet Apartments in late 1970s and early 1980s (which still stand today). Concrete helicopter landing pads were also constructed, but still – nobody found it necessary to construct a proper tarmac.
While the Flugplatz Rangsdorf was strictly off limits for german civilians, the Soviets made their presence felt. Locals can still to this day recall the noise generated by the open air testing of the jet and helicopter engines, as well as the constant often hour long noise generated by low flying helicopters.
With the fall of the Berlin Wall, German reunification and the end of the Cold War, the Russians, Ukrainians, Uzbeks, Turkmen and all other former Soviet conscripts had outstayed their welcome and returned back to their newly independent nations. By 1994, the last troops had moved out and the base was handed over to the German State.
Flugplatz Rangsdorf between 1994 and 2021
The German Government had no logistical use for the Flugplatz, but kept the property in its books for the time being. The Brandenburg State Office for the Preservation of Monuments and Archaeological State Museum put the airfield, the Aero-Club, the Mess Hall as well as the remaining (original) factory halls as well the Bücker Werk housing units and the former sports field under heritage protection in 1995, citing its historical and architectural importance. The German State offloaded the former housing units to the rangsdorf Community, while the State of Brandenburg received the rest of the Flugplatz Rangsdorf in 1999.
As is almost always the case, no one really wanted to invest any money into any type of real estate project. Aside from the former Bücker Houses, the majority of building were left to rot . The irony being that many of the buildings on the Flugplatz Rangsdorf were already in terrible shape when they were handed back to the Germans as the Soviets often lacked proper supplies for their upkeep and essentially just made do with what they had.
On the positive side, the old Aero-Club and the adjacent buildings which had been repurposed as the Soviet Officers Casino was bought in the year 2000, restored to its original condition as dictated by the State Heritage Agency (which also meant the removal of some interesting soviet murals) and has since been turned into a Private (Boarding) School. The German artists Maja Körner and André Butzer bought a chunk of the Bücker Werk – namely the Mess Hall and Administration Building and the “Kameradschaftenhaus” (a Casino of sorts) and turned it into their home and studios.
Even the Bücker Villa – which was left in complete ruins after 1994 found a new owner(s) and was restored to its original condition in 2001.
In 2018, the Nürnberg based terraplan group – the same company that bought and converted the former 1936 Berlin Olympic Village – purchased the factory halls located in the eastern section of the airfield with the aim of building new housing units.
Flugplatz Rangsdorf today (2022)
We already had the chance to visit the Flugplatz Rangsdorf back in 2015 and the decay and vandalism thats occured over the years is (as to be expected) immense. While many of the buildings have suffered due to elements and neglect, scrap metal thieves and general idiots have done their bit. Almost all of the buildings have been completely gutted, there a massive holes in the floor and quite a few ceilings have already collapsed. Its questionable if and what of these buildings can actually be saved as nothing has been done to stop the decay.
The terraplan gruppe has held several meetings with the community of Rangsdorf regarding their BUC-36 Project, and has even hosted an an exhibition about the conversion project in the Rangsdorf City Hall in late March 2022. Aside from this, no actual work has begun – though based on their previous projects I wouldn’t be surprised if things progressed very quickly. The development is planned to take place in three stages with the first section proposed to be completed by 2026, the second phase by 2030, and the third one by 2035. One can hope that at least a part of this historic site will survive and be publicly accessible in the near future.
Flugplatz Rangsdorf Map
Flugplatz Rangsdorf Address