Friday, November 2, 2012

The Airship President - Part 1

This is a special project for me. I started this back in 2009 and "wrapped it up" in 2011, though I may rewrite it in the future. It needs some (well, probably more than some) polishing. Here's the first piece that I posted back in '09. This story is written as a series of clips from various primary and secondary sources that would have existed in this alternate timeline, complete with citations of the books or newspapers that they are supposed to be in. 

Germany was saved with a heart attack. At least, that is what many in that country will tell you. The year was 1932. Germany was dealing with much political unrest, with far-right and far-left parties attempting to bring down the democratic structure of the Weimar Constitution from within. It was during this pivotal time in history that the President of Germany, Paul von Hindenburg, suffered a massive heart attack on January 12, 1932, that forever decided the course of world events.  In the days immediately following this loss, Chancellor Heinrich Brüning (1885-1970) attempted to hold the country together until the Presidential election. The far right was supporting Adolf Hitler (1889-1952) of the National Socialist German Workers Party (Nazis). The far-left supported Ernst Thälmann of the Communist Party. Many feared that one totalitarian extreme or the other would dominate Germany, with no hope for the survival of democracy. 
Then, almost out of nowhere, a third candidate appeared on the scene, and would be the savior of not only Germany’s democracy, but the political stability of all Europe. On February 3, 1932, it was announced that Hugo Eckener, the world-renowned airship pioneer and head of Luftschiffbau Zeppelin, would run for President, with the full backing of the Social Democrats, the Centre Party, and the German Democratic Party. Suddenly there was hope for the country’s fledgling democracy.  For over a month, Eckener flew all over Germany in the Graf Zeppelin, campaigning for office. He promised to create new jobs by starting new building projects to improve the lives of every German. He promised to bring the Allies to the negotiating table to revise the Versailles Treaty to make if fairer for the German people. He promised to make Germany strong, without having to leave behind the great gift of democracy. 
On March 13, Germans headed to the polls. Once the ballots were counted, "Eckener was declared the winner, with 52% of the vote, Hitler receiving 31%, and Thälmann receiving 17%. Eckener would be sworn in on March 31, and immediately set out to revive and strengthen his homeland.
- Liebermann, Dr. William. The Zeppelin President. “Prologue: From Zeppelins to Politics.” Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003

January 27, 1932- Today I was visited by members of the SDP and the Centre Party. They want me to run in the election to replace Hindenburg! I told them they were crazy! My work was the Zeppelins. I wanted nothing to do with politics. They insisted that even though I wanted nothing to do with politics, that politics might want something to do with me. One of the gentlemen from the SDP pointed out that it was known that I was ardently against the Nazis. He says to me “Dr. Eckener, what happens if, God forbid, Hitler were to be elected as president? Do you think he’d let you alone to tinker with your sky ships? Do you?” I didn’t answer directly. The man had a point, much as I hate to admit it. In the end, I told them I’d think about it and get back with them shortly. I really do not want to meddle with all that craziness in Berlin. I prefer the south.  I prefer to stay where it’s peaceful. But maybe I need to put my country before my own needs. The thought of that madman becoming the leader of this nation is appalling.
January 28, 1932- I spoke with my family and close business associates at the Zeppelin Company today about the proposal from the SDP and the CP to run against Hitler.  They all told me to go for it, that I would be a good thing for Germany.  I don’t know that I agree, but I think I will follow their advice.  I cannot stomach the thought of Adolf Hitler becoming President.  It would spell disaster for us all I’m sure. 
- From the personal diary of President Hugo Eckener “Personal Documents of President Eckener.” The Zeppelin Institute, Friedrichshafen.


FRIEDRICHSHAFEN, FEB 3- World renowned airship pioneer Hugo Eckener declared today that he would be running for President of Germany in the March election to replace late President Paul von Hindenburg, who died last month from a heart attack. Mr. Eckener is being backed by the Social Democrats, the Centre Party, and the German Democratic Party in what will likely be a close race between Mr. Eckener and Adolf Hitler of the National Socialist Party.
- “Eckener Declares Candidacy for German Presidency,” The Times (London), February 4, 1932

            I knew from the moment that giant silver cigar floated above Berlin that we would have our work cut out for us. But at the time I still believed we would trounce this old man that represented Germany as it was at the time, and not what it would become under a solid National Socialist government. I was sure that the people of Germany would turn out to support the better candidate. We would win, I knew we would. But the people were mesmerized first by his dramatic arrival in whatever city or town he went to, flying in on one of his Zeppelins. They would flock to him first to see his ship, then to here him speak, promising them all sorts of things that he couldn’t deliver. But they didn’t care. All they were thinking was “here is the man who has made Germany proud by flying around the world in his airship.” And somehow, that was enough. We National Socialist were never able to recover after that, because Eckener and his jew-infested, communist loving democrats threw us out of the political system. The ruined what Germany could have become.
- Hitler, Adolf. Meine Niederlage. Nuremburg: Suddeutsche Press, 1951.

February 27, 1932- Today was our second major rally in Berlin. I flew the Graf over the city, very low, so my team could toss out leaflets encouraging Germans to vote on March 15, and asking them to choose me as the candidate of democracy and strength. We then landed the ship in the Tiergarten, where thousands of people came to listen. On the edge of the crowd, I saw the Berlin Police force members of Hitler’s “Brown shirts” away from the crowd. I spoke later with someone from the Police who said that those men had weapons and were going to try and break up the rally. I am all the more certain that Hitler and his thugs must be stopped. If they win, they will turn Germany upside down as they destroy every freedom we have.  We cannot lose.
- From the personal diary of President Hugo Eckener “Personal Documents of President Eckener.” The Zeppelin Institute, Friedrichshafen.

HAMBURG, MAR 1- Earlier today, at an election rally where presidential candidate Hugo Eckener was speaking to a crowd of nearly 30,000 people, members of the National Socialist Party opened fire on the famed Zeppelin captain, causing a panic to erupt. Eckener was unharmed, but 2 members of Eckener’s campaign team, along with 12 members of the crowd were killed. So far, only two of the Nazi Party members have been arrested in connection with the attack. Herr Hitler claims to have no connection with today’s events.
-“Nazis Shoot at Eckener in Hamburg,” Frankfurter Zeitung, March 2, 1932.

March 1, 1932- Those mongrels! This is why we must win. If Hitler and his Nazis take over, Germany will be reduced to being ruled by criminals, who would murder innocent Germans, their own countrymen, just to gain power.  I still can’t believe Otto and Heinrich are gone. Such good men, both seasoned Zeppelin men. Their crewmen from the Graf are planning a special memorial tomorrow morning. I believe that the funeral will be at the end of the week. I sure hope that their deaths will serve as an example to my countrymen of things to come if the choose to side with the Nazis. God, may this wake the people to the reality we now face!
- From the personal diary of President Hugo Eckener “Personal Documents of President Eckener.” The Zeppelin Institute, Friedrichshafen.

MAR 10- Presidential hopeful Hugo Eckener gave two speeches here today, the first at the giant Zeppelin hangars at the Rheine-Main Air station, the second inside Paul’s Church. Here is some of what he said: “Frankfurters! Do not be deceived by the men in brown shirts with their swastikas and fancy slogans! They scream ‘Germany, Awake!’ and parade through our streets, disturbing our peace and quite. Frankfurters, I tell you that we must not give in to their barbarism! Not 10 days ago, several Nazi thugs stormed a peaceful rally in Hamburg, killing 14 people in an attempt to kill me. Ladies and Gentlemen, do you know why they tried to take my life? It is because they fear the democratic system that we seek to preserve, and fear that they cannot beat the forces of democracy by honest means! Do you want people like that running your country? Do you, people of Frankfurt? Do you want murderers in charge of you?” Both rallies were attended by large crowds that were very lively and excited. Frankfurt Police did report some incidences with members of the Nazi Party, arresting a total of 15 people attempting to disrupt the rallies. Since his announcement that he was running over one month ago, Dr. Eckener’s popularity amongst people of Frankfurt has steadily increased, and the politically astute in this region expect that Frankfurt will vote for Eckener.
-“Eckener Decries Nazis as Murderers,” Frankfurter Zeitung, March 11, 1932.

March 13, 1932- Today is the day of reckoning. My family and I cast our ballots early this morning in Friedrichshafen, and are now anxiously awaiting the results. As I write this, we are en route to Berlin on the Graf. We are going to remain in Berlin until the results come in, and then we’ll go from there. I am on edge. I want to trust the German people, to trust that they will see the façade that the Nazis have created, and see them for what they truly are. But fear grips me all the same. Fear of having that lunatic becoming President, and destroying everything good and decent in Germany. God help us, for we cannot survive a reign of terror lead by the Nazis. It would be our destruction.
- From the personal diary of President Hugo Eckener “Personal Documents of President Eckener.” The Zeppelin Institute, Friedrichshafen.

BERLIN, MAR 14- It was announced this morning by the State Election Agency that Dr. Hugo Eckener, the world renowned Zeppelin builder who in 1929 flew the famous Graf Zeppelin on a round-the-world flight that amazed the Earth, has been elected as President of Germany, replacing the late Paul von Hindenburg and defeating Adolf Hitler and Ernst Thälmann in what is being hailed by Eckener’s supporters as a “great day for German democracy.” Eckener promised during the campaign to protect the fragile German republic from the extreme right and the extreme left, and to strengthen the country’s economy and international standing. It is expected that Eckener will be sworn in as Germany’s third president before the end of the month.
-“Zep Builder to Become German President,” The New York Times, March 15, 1932.

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  1. This is some great world building and fantastic alternate history. Keep it going!
    -Jordan Harbour

  2. Thank you Jordan! I hope you've been enjoying all the updates since this one. This has definitely been a fun story to write.