For well-heeled voluptuaries the prospect of bunking-up at a National Socialist ‘Strength through Joy’ camp was unthinkable, especially as they could whoop it up in exotic destinations courtesy of the booming airship, airline and ocean-liner industry.
The ‘flag carrier’ Deutsche Lufthansa was operating flights to across Europe, America, Asia, Africa and Australia using a modern fleet of Junkers planes capable of carrying 12-20 passengers in absolute comfort.
For those looking for total luxury, airships were the last word.
The Hindenburg was compared to a ‘hotel in the sky’ – it boasted a large dining room, lounge, writing room, port and starboard promenades and 25 inside cabins.
When this colossal airship burst into flames in May 1937 while landing near New Jersey, thirty-five of the 97 people on board were killed.
A leader in the Western Daily Press expressed British horror at the disaster.
“The nation which still remembers painfully the fate of the R101 will sympathise profoundly with the Government and people of Germany over the catastrophe which has befallen the airship Hindenburg. In the presence of such a calamity words are inadequate to express the feelings of horror and pity that possess the mind. ”
In response to the disaster, Hitler called a halt to airship travel, but the track record of the regular airplane service left little to be desired.
In June 1936, ten people were killed and three injured when a Lufthansa plane crashed Thuringia Forest.
Then the following March, three members of the crew and an official of the company were drowned when their plane flying between Las Palmas and Bathurst, crashed into the Gambia River.
In November 1937, ten passengers were killed and two injured when a Lufthansa plane from Berlin to Mannheim crashed during a botched landing – and just a month later a Lufthansa mail carrier crashed in flames at Croydon, killing the two pilots.
Despite the setback, Lufthansa was a growing concern.
By summer 38, the company spanned the South Atlantic, offering connecting flights from Buenos Aires, Argentina, to Santiago, Chile, and from La Paz to Lima.
It’s extensive route map was widely publicised when Baron von Gablenz, the director of airline, flew from Berlin to Tokyo via Belgrade, Athens, Baghdad, Hong-Kong and Tokyo in twelve days in April 1939.
Plans for a trans-Indian air service to begin in the summer of 1940 were announced and permission from the Greek Government for Lufthansa to use Athens as a stopover for experimental flights from Berlin to China was granted.
A twice weekly between Europe and South America was also proving to be a high earner for the company, and when a Lufthansa flying Boat flew from the UK to Brazil covering 5,313 miles non-stop in just 43 hours, the aviation industry was left aghast.
Ironically, it was in the last year prior to the outbreak of war, which turned out to be the most successful one in the history of the airline, with 19.3 million flight kilometres on the scheduled European routes and a total of 254,713 passengers and 5,288 tons of mail transported.
On Saturday 26 August 1939, a Danish plane leaving Croydon for Hamburg took the last remaining mechanic employed by Lufthansa at Croydon Airport home.
Lufthansa’s normal staff of about twelve had been reduced to one—Herr Starke, the manager. He returned to Germany a few days later.
Lufthansa planes would not return to the United Kingdom until 1955.