Historical Planes in a Historical Place
The aviation collection of the Museum of Military History of the Bundeswehr is located at what remains of the historic Berlin-Gatow airfield in the Kladow district of Germany’s capital city.
The Gatow airfield was constructed between 1934 and 1935 as a training base and college for the Luftwaffe. At the end of the Second World War, it was briefly occupied by Soviet forces and then ceded to British control upon the division of Berlin.
The base remained under British control, spending time under both air force and army jurisdiction, until 1994 when it was handed over to German control. It ceased to be a functional airport in 1995. Eventually, the two runways were cut in half to make room for residential development in the nearby vicinity.
The museum has approximately 70 aircraft on display both indoors and outdoors that cover a broad range of time periods from the late 1800s to the present day. Aside of the aircraft, there are also displays of uniforms, land vehicles and much more.
The museum’s indoor exhibitions are housed in two hangars and the control tower building.
Hangar 3 contains aircraft of both world wars and of aircraft used in the early days of the reformed post war Luftwaffe. The museum’s souvenir shop is also here.
The control tower building contains displays of uniforms from different eras of 20th century German military history as well as a room comparing the organisational structures of the air forces of the former East and West Germany.
A walk to the other end of the tarmac will get you to Hangar 7, where exhibits of a more contemporary nature are kept. Here, you’ll find examples of more recently retired aircraft as well as an extensive display about cooperation with the U.S. Air Force for the training of German fighter pilots in America.
Aircraft on display in Hangar 7 include a Lockheed F-104 Starfighter, McDonnell Douglas F-4 PhantomII, Panavia Tornado, Fouga Magister and Mikoyan MiG-29 Fulcrum among others.
Beyond the full aircraft on display, Hangar 7 also has preserved nose sections of the F-104, F-4 and Tornado that enable visitors to get a close up look at the cockpits of those three types
Aside ofthe Luftwaffe aircraft in that hangar, there is also an example of a U.S. Air Force Cessna T-37 training jet; a type in which many German fighter pilots during the Cold War received their basic jet training on in America.
At the time of my visit, in early May of 2016, the aircraft and land vehicles which make up the museum’s outdoor exhibition were arranged mainly according to their roles.
All eras of Cold War aircraft are well represented here, with not only aircraft of the formerly divided Germany but also some of foreign nations which operated in the former West Germany through NATO commitments. As such, former Royal Air Force machines like the English Electric Lightning and Hawker Siddeley Harrier are present in the museum’s collection as is a former French air force Mirage III fighter. Notable in the museum’s selection of foreign aircraft is a Royal Australian Air Force Douglas Dakota transport which is used to represent the international nature of the Berlin Airlift operations, for which Gatow was a key flying base.
Also notable in the museum’s collection, both indoor and outdoor, is the repeated appearance of the distinctive Lockheed F-104 Starfighter. There are no less than five complete examples on public display as well as a preserved nose section.
This level of representation of one type in one museum could be seen as quite appropriate in the case of a museum like this one.
Through the course of the Cold War, nine European nations used the Starfighter. Additionally, Canadian and American F-104 units were also based in Europe during the period.
The F-104 kept a constant presence for over four decades in European skies from the early 1960s until Italy retired the last of theirs in 2004. Both derided and praised, the aircraft became an icon of western air power in Europe during the Cold War.
While the Luftwaffe is the main focus of the museum, there is also some space made for the Marineflieger; the air arm of the German navy.
A clutch of three aircraft; a Fairey Gannet, Hawker Sea Hawk and Franco-German developed Atlantic patrol aircraft represent this lesser seen aspect of German military aviation
As might be expected of a museum with a significant outdoor aspect open to the elements, the aircraft all show one degree or another of weathering. Some have clearly been tended to and refreshed in the not too distant past while others are still clearly waiting their turn. However, all the aircraft are clearly cared for and all look structurally sound.
The museum states in their information brochure that there are future plans to eventually open more of the hangars for exhibition purposes. Hopefully, this means that some of the aircraft sitting outside right now, will find permanent housing indoors one day.
Paying a Visit and Learning More
Though not near the centre of Berlin, this museum is very worth visiting and reasonably easy to get to using Berlin’s very efficient and well organised public transport system.
My trip there from the centre of the city took approximately an hour, including two exchanges and a ten minute walk from the nearest bus stop to the museum. However, it felt much quicker due to minimal waits for connections along the way.
Alternately, the museum has some parking available if you go by car.
The museum is free to enter and is open from 10:00 to 18:00 on Tuesdays to Sundays. With the exception of public holidays, it is closed on Mondays.
These two links, the museum website and their information brochure respectively, will give you more information about not only the Museum of Military History branch at Gatow, but also the other two locations at Dresden and Konigstein fortress.