Category Archives: Air travel

Flight from East Berlin.


Berlin went apostate after the Wall’s crumble – it is now a free-for-all, one of those clichéd multicultural hubs, the EU’s sociological vanguard. Not so back in the Honecker days, a Stasi-sprinkled 1984.

The audacity of this escape is bonkers, so too the entirely legit video recording of the getaway. Old Skool VHS-C home video footage isn’t half gnarly when the camera roams free in the exterior à la Paul Greengrass. No one wants to see a wee sprog from the States wail like Chewbacca on an ecstacy overdose upon opening a Nintendo 64; mind-blowing vistas is what it’s all about.

Escape artists:

Ingo Bethke, a border guard, fled East Berlin on an air mattress in 1975, crossing the River Elbe into West Germany. In 1983, his brother Holger did one better, using a zip line from an attic to Ingo’s car on the other side of the wall. It was six years later that the two brothers, having learned to fly, dressed in military garb, painted Soviet red stars on two planes, flew over the wall, landed in a park (with one place circling overhead), picked up the third brother, Egbert, and then flew back into West Berlin, arriving at the steps of the Reichstag. They then went off and got pished on a smorgasbord of alcoholic delicacies. Incredible.


Icarus (x3) they were not. Totalitarianism breeds creativity, just ask Jean-Paul Sartre. And nothing spotlights the stupidity of that lunatic Soviet ideology than getting a free pass to fly around with abandon merely because there are red stars on your plane.

Good Bye, Lenin! (2003) so comically captured those last dying days of the GDR. Imagine that mixed with The Great Escape of the Bethke brothers. Why isn’t this a movie yet?

Further reading:


Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

On the sauce in Salzburg and Munich.

Back to Salzburg and Munich again for a double-headed session. To think the birthplace of Mozart and Doppler was now the temporary milieu of beer-compromised attempts to retrieve a Snickers bar from a dilapidated vending machine at 4:16 a.m.


Salzburg is a place with many bars, sadly few ATMs (seeking a Geldautomat is depressing), and with a most varied supply of charming newsagents, which appears to my primary interest these days. Somewhere down the line vistas ceased to be of fascination. I couldn’t find a Lidl, though. Gutted.


The salient memory of Munich was feigning a limp in order to use a disabled toilet, and attempting to escape the city for the airport. There was “something wrong with the tracks,” they kept barking at me in the station. I don’t think I’ve ever been on so many trains to get to one destination, and so drained of vitamins throughout. I thought I was going to die on that plane home from an overdose of fatigue and amaretto. But I didn’t.  Good times.


Tagged , , , ,

The Boeing 314 Clipper.


Look at this madness. A bygone age, passengers on Boeing’s 314 Clipper were graced with sleeping compartments, lounges, changing rooms, and a bridal suite (De Lux Compartment) for trans-Atlantic travel. Some of the images of the time (1930s and ’40s) appear ‘pre-history’, as if this is how all air travel should be; we were denied it by economics and the rather vexing religious cuckoo.

The Emirates A380 business class experience is the closest parallel to that luxury flying boat; think Patrick Bateman from Dubai to Sydney with all the mod cons. What’s missing, however, is … well, look at that photo of the Clipper interior – it’s pure shameless decadence at 13,000 feet, but without the sandals and hoodies. Every Master of the Universe is suited and booted.


When I make my millions from pulling off the most daring robbery (don’t tell anyone) since the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum theft, I’ll be flying from airport to airport on one of these Emirates bad boys, a bottle of £20,000 champagne and the Mighty Ducks movies to accompany my victory laps. I won’t be visiting places; the airports will suffice.

Further reading/viewing:

Tagged , , , , , ,

Air New Zealand Flight 901.

Statistically, so I keep hearing, the odds of dying in a commercial plane crash are one in 29.4 million, and the odds of being in a plane crash are one in 11 million. The ‘safest mode of transport’ it may be, but it’s human fuck-ups at 30,000 feet that terrify me more than the failure of cutting-edge machinery, and with pilot error at 53% I shudder at the thought of one off his game. Moreover, when the company men on the ground are fucking up, too, your odds have shortened.

Air New Zealand Flight 901 in 1979 is your tragic archetypal case of total miscommunication. This was the last of Air New Zealand’s Antarctic sightseeing tours which departed from and returned to Auckland on the same day, a 5,000-mile return trip.


The night before the disaster, a correction was made to the flight path co-ordinates, the flight crew not informed of this change. Subsequently, the plane was directed not down McMurdo Sound but straight into Mount Erebus. The effects of sector whiteout phenomenon – the blending of clouds with the volcano – meant the crew were completely unaware of the outside topography. The fatal flight would claim 257 lives.


Peter Mahon QC’s Commission of Inquiry is an absolute must for anyone captivated by the tragedy.


Further reading/viewing:

Tagged , , , , , ,

Edinburgh from the skies.

The sheer technical brilliance of this snap, and the conditions of its making, shouts out pure romance. What a time to be alive. Today we get crappy iPhone images from the window of a Ryanair flight to Lanzarote.


Alfred G Buckham’s Aerial View of Edinburgh (1920) keeps cropping up in material I’m reading about aerial reconnaissance in the First World War, not as a documentation of that period, but as an example of what some pilots did following the conflict. In this new age of flight, they simply took to the skies and put to good use the skills they honed on the Western Front. It’s what I’d like to imagine Manfred von Richthofen (the Red Baron) would have done had he survived the making of his legend – art superseding war.

Buckham, the first head of aerial reconnaissance for the Royal Navy, captured most of his shots standing up in his plane. He left us with this enduring quote on aerial photographic technique: ‘If one’s right leg is tied to the seat with a scarf or a piece of rope, it is possible to work in perfect security.’

The guy had balls.

Tagged , , , , ,

Architectural determinism and airports.

“There is no doubt whatever about the influence of architecture and structure upon human character and action. We make our buildings and afterwards they make us. They regulate the course of our lives.” – Winston Churchill addressing the English Architectural Association in 1924.

Such leaders did at one point uniformally think that society could be shaped by its physical constructs – that us peasants would be awed into a mode of thinking and behaving. How else could one explain Albert Speer’s infamous Cathedral of Light at Nuremberg from 1933 onwards, this perhaps *the* apotheosis of architecture as both symbolism and distraction, imbued with the ‘ideals’ of that regime and as, to speak plainly, something nice to look at.


The sometimes hideous effects of what Maurice Broady termed ‘architectural determinism’ in his 1966 paper Social theory in Architectural Design can be evidenced in the case of the Wendell O. Pruitt Homes and William Igoe Apartments, or Pruitt–Igoe, surely the most striking example of authoritarian utopia ending in a right fucking mess.


Designed by Minoru Yamasaki, the architect behind the World Trade Center towers and the Lambert-St. Louis International Airport main terminal, the Pruitt–Igoe was demolished a mere two decades after its completion in 1956, such were the levels of crime and racial discord within the complex. It’s now the archetypal failure of social engineering through architectural design.

It’s our airports today – our temporary living quarters – that perhaps more than any other constructs are so obviously designed to regulate human behaviour, and with good reason.

It’s only when I’m in an airport that I consider how much has consciously informed the design of the building to as calmly as possible guide the passenger from security to plane, that the best of them are an intricately sculpted conveyor belt. I’ve had the feeling many times: “I’m being controlled here.” A Panopticon-like transportation hub, I am not sure whether I am being watched in my every movement, but I behave as if I am and follow the orthodoxy, my surface deindividuation process complete. In airports we are powerless and deferential to authority, a uniform more powerful than words. In some cases, though, you will be in a horror show – Bratislava and Faro’s airports come to mind. This is when you witness the collective lose their proverbial shit.

You can ease someone into serenity, relieve the stress, but there have been times in some stinker airports where I must confess I have sweated spinal fluid. It’s being around confused people that does it. A microcosm of society, the airport is where the traumatised go to annoy the rest of us. You can see them actively struggling to comprehend what is going on, like headless hens on hallucinogens (accidental alliteration). I don’t want to know what it would be like were the busiest airports not the realisation of total design. We are even given the illusion of choice, with the range of shops on offer mostly all selling the exact same water or snack product, the selection of overpriced bars, to the option of speedy or priority boarding (as if the flight will be departing more quickly when choosing this option).

Some of the very best:

Munich Airport.


Apparently (according to the *internets*), the Munich Airport Centre has the only supermarket in Bavaria; a passenger can shop from 5.30 a.m. to midnight every day. Enter every cliche about Germany and its efficiency and cleanliness.

Haneda Airport (Tokyo Haneda Airport).


I was here in 2015. Fuck me, it was almost like I had ventured into another world. I could have been anywhere but an airport. Then I sat next to a fat bastard from Missouri who smelled like blue cheese.

Singapore Changi Airport.


135,000 passengers a day but one doesn’t even feel like they have even approached the building. Omniscient greenery, a rooftop pool, movie theatres. Scenes.

Further reading:

Tagged , , , , , ,

Air travel #throwbackSundays.

A Braniff airliner in the 1960s.

It’s something out of Mad Men.00-00-braniff-airliner-in-the-1960s

Tagged , , , , ,