Zeppelin, Kiel, Germany, c. 1913

UNDATED – An airship flies across the town center of Kiel in Germany, with the town hall (left) and opera house (right). © Archiv Mark Zanzig/zanzig.com

The story behind the image

The other day I purchased a historic image, a glass slide that shows without any doubt my hometown Kiel in Germany. The key attraction is an airship that flies across the Rathausplatz in the city center, with the town hall and the opera house.

Now, this image is interesting. It does not carry a caption (just the figure ‘9’) but is has been part of a small collection of images showing images of the First World War up to its end. This could have been a slide show for education purposes, or part of a documentary set covering WW1.

The resolution of the slide is not very high. It seems to be a reproduction, not the original source of the image.

I started to wonder: 1) When was this photo captured, and 2) which airship is shown in the image?

The answers are quite difficult to find despite all the tools available today.

Let’s tackle the first question – when? The opera house shown on the right had been inaugurated in October 1907, so it is likely that the photo had been shot in or after 1907. The clothes, however, indicate a later period, possibly 1912 to 1915. This might also explain why the slide was found in a set of WW1 slides.

This detail from the glass slide shows clothes that were popular around 1913.

Another indicator is the airship which dominates the top section of the image. It seems to be the newsworthy element in the picture. This should help pinpointing the moment in time. But again, this is difficult to determine. The lack of markings prevents identifying the airship correctly. So, I needed to do more research.

The key elements of this airship are: two gondolas, a passenger cabin in the center, large rudders in the front section, and a bullet-like appearance. However, I have not found a single photo showing this exact type, especially with its remarkable aft section and the two ‘flaps’ at the bottom. The two flaps at the side look OK.

While there have been airships in Northern Germany around 1913, this type of airship was already outdated by that time. It resembles a Zeppelin LZ 9 which was active as a military airship between October 1911 and August 1914. However, LZ 9 lacks the passenger cabin in the center and some of the details – the large rudders and the aft section – do not match either.

It could also be LZ 10 Schwaben which was almost identical to LZ 9 but equipped for passenger transport. But the LZ 10 lacks the large rudders in the front, too, and it was active just between July 1911 and June 1912.

And it could be LZ 11 Viktoria Louise, but again this one lacks the large rudders in the front. LZ 11 was active between February 1912 and October 1915.

It could also be LZ 13 Hansa which was almost identical to LZ 11. It was used in passenger service between July 1912 and June 1914.

The airship does not show markings.
The airship has a passenger cabin in the center section which was a feature of LZ 10, LZ 11, and LZ 13.

Finally, some of the details in the photo made me wonder whether this photo was really a press photo, i.e. capturing a historic event “as is”, or rather an illustration of the scene? Some of the people do not throw shadows while others clearly do. One guy is lacking feet. (I don’t believe that there was high grass on the Rathausplatz back then.)

The slide shows people walking on the Rathausplatz in Kiel. One person throws a distinct shadow while the other two do not create any shadow.
This man does not throw a shadow, and he seems to lack feet.

Here’s my conclusion: This slide is probably from 1919 or 1920 and shows a scene from 1913, 1914 or 1915 where an airship apparently had visited the Kiel Week. However, light conditions were bad, or the airship did not pass the town center as planned, or there was some other issue, so the photographer or news agency decided to illustrate the event. They might have taken a photo of the town hall and opera house, added an older Zeppelin image from the archive, and while they were at it, they also added some people.

If you have any insights or thoughts, please let me know in the comments or by email.

The high resolution image

Capture Datec. 1913
LocationKiel, Germany
Image Source8.5 x 8.5 cm black & white glass slide
Digital Image SourceEPSON Perfection 4870 Photo
Digital Image Source FormatTIFF, 48 bits/pixel, sRGB
Edited Image FormatJPEG, 24 bits/pixel, sRGB
Edited Image Dimensions6990 x 5132 Pixels
Copyright© Archiv Mark Zanzig/zanzig.com

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