Hidden among suburban streets in the south of Berlin, there is an unexpected sight: Lilienthal Park. To some, it might look like an ancient burial ground from an alien-like civilization or some ancient tribe. But the weird-looking hill that lies in Lichterfelde is a part of the memorial park to Otto Lilienthal, one of Germany’s aviation pioneers.
Lilienthal Park is the name of the park, and the Fliegeberg is the name of that hill that is part of Germany’s aviation history. It was there that, in 1894, Otto Lilienthal started doing his gliding experiments in Berlin. You probably read his name around Berlin a few times since Berlin’s busiest airport, Berlin Tegel “Otto Lilienthal” Airport, is named after him.
But who was Otto Lilienthal?
Otto Lilienthal was born in Anklam in May 1848 and became famous as the Glider King since he was the first person to make well-documented, repeated and successful gliding flights. His photographs started being published in newspapers and magazines across the world and ended up influencing the general opinion about the possibility of flying machines for humankind.
In 1894, Otto Lilienthal built an artificial conical hill near his home in Lichterfelde, called Fliegeberg. He built it on the spoils of where a brickyard used to be together with his brother Gustav. Standing on the top of the 15 meters high hill, he could launch his gliders into the wind no matter which direction it was coming from. I keep imagining the crowd’s faces that used to go there to see the flying man from Lichterfelde.
In August 1896, Otto Lilienthal was doing one of these glider tests in Rhinow when his glider pitched forward, heading down quickly. He tried to recover his position but couldn’t, and he fell from a height of 15 meters while still in the glider. His last words to his brother Gustav were Opfer müssen gebracht werden! (Sacrifices must be made!). And the Fliegeberg remained there.
Only in 1932, the site of the Fliegeberg started to be shaped like it is today. The clay pit was filled with water and became a pond, a former workers residence became a tourist restaurant, and a viewing pavilion was built at the summit. Now, grass covers the hill during summer, springtime brings cherry trees blooming, and everything is orange during autumn, as you can see in the pictures here.
When you climb the steps that lead to Fliegeberg’s summit, look down and wonder the faith that Otto Lilienthal needed to jump from the top and fly carried by an experimental glider. Just look around and wonder. A bronze globe stands on the top, inscribed with Otto Lilienthal 1848 — 1896, as a reminder that this place is a part of history. Otto Lilienthal laid down the legacy and influence that spread around the world. From Santos Dumont to the Wright Brothers, Otto Lilienthal opened the skies to everybody.
Visiting Lilienthal Park
The first time I ever visited Lilienthal Park was a Sunday back in 2014. I went to visit Lilienthal Park and the Fliegeberg on the same day that I went to see Chris Gueffroy’s Memorial. It was a beautiful and sunny autumn day, and I took my bike and went from Neukölln all the way to Lichterfelde. It wasn’t the best idea I ever had since it was a longer bike ride than I was prepared to…
The park is really close to Brandenburg and the closest S-Bahn station is Berlin Osdorfer Straße. Take the train and walk the rest through the suburbans streets of Lichterfelde. You are going to find Lilienthal Park at Schütte-Lanz-Str. and Scheelestr.