The Deutsche Zeppelin-Reederei (the German Zeppelin Transport Company, or DZR) was established on March 22, 1935, to operate German passenger airships.
Prior to the establishment of the DZR, passenger zeppelins were built by the Luftshiffbau Zeppelin (the Zeppelin Airship Construction Company, known as the “LZ”) and operated by DELAG (Deutsche Luftschiffahrts-Aktiengesellschaft, or German Airship Transportation Corporation Ltd), which was established in 1909 as an offshoot of the LZ and dominated by Hugo Eckener. With the establishment of the DZR, airship activities were divided between the LZ, which would continue to build the airships, and the DZR, which would operate them.
The DZR was created at the instigation of Air Minister Hermann Göring as a way to increase Nazi control over zeppelin operations, and can be see as part of the larger policy of Gleichschaltung, or coordination, which affected all aspects of German life in the years following Hitler’s assumption of power.
Consistent with Nazi ideology, the airship was expected to be more than just a private commercial venture; it was to be a public symbol of the new German nation. In a speech marking the founding of the DZR, Göring commented: “I hope that the new ship will also fulfill its duty in furthering the cause of Germany… The airship does not have the exclusive purpose of flying across the Atlantic, but also has a responsibility to act as the nation’s representative.”
The establishment of the DZR may have also been partly inspired by the bureaucratic rivalry between Air Minister Göring and Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, and Goering’s commitment of 9 million marks to the zeppelin project, on condition of the creation of the DZR, came shortly after Goebbels offered the Zeppelin Company 2 million marks toward the completion of LZ-129 in the summer of 1934.
The DZR was also a way to decrease the influence of Hugo Eckener, who had demonstrated his hostility to the National Socialist regime, and to reorient the airship away from Hugo Eckener’s internationalist vision. Eckener saw the zeppelin as a global symbol of good will and communication among the nations of the world, but the Nazis were determined to turn the airship into a preeminently German icon; under the control of the DZR, the zeppelin was expected to “represent the German flag and to make known to the world the healthy and workmanlike spirit of our Fatherland.”
The most significant practical effect of the creation of the DZR was, in fact, to sharply curtain the influence of Hugo Eckener over flight operations. While Eckener was named chairman of the new company, it was simply an honorary title, and the company was under the actual leadership of its director, Ernst Lehmann, who was far more sympathetic to the National Socialist agenda.
The directors of the DZR included Captain Lehmann and Magdeburg police president Carl Christiansen, who was replaced by Walter Issel in December, 1936. The Supervisory Board included Eckener as chairman, along with Carl August Freiherr von Gablenz and Martin Vronsky of Lufthansa, and Albert Muhlig-Hofmann of the Air Ministry.
Total capital of the company was 9,550,000 Reichsmarks, and the DZR was owned jointly by the Luftshiffbau Zeppelin, Deutsche Lufthansa, and the Air Ministry as follows:
Luftshiffbau Zeppelin: 5,700,000
Deutsche Lufthansa for is own account: 400,000 RM
Deutsche Lufthansa in trust for the Air Ministry: 3,450,000 RM
Very little cash was invested by the LZ, and the bulk of its contribution was in the form of the LZ-127 Graf Zeppelin and the LZ-129, which was still under construction.
The DZR Today