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Souvenir of Germany

A Theatre of Warfare and Aviation


souvenir (n.)
1775, »a remembrance or memory,« from French souvenir (12c.), from Old French noun use of souvenir (v.) »to remember, come to mind,« from Latin subvenire »come to mind,« from sub »up from below« (see sub-) + venire »to come,« from a suffixed form of PIE root *gwa- »to go, come.« Meaning »token of remembrance, memento« is first recorded 1782.

(‘Souvenir | Origin and Meaning of Souvenir by Online Etymology Dictionary’ 2021)

»Places chose you. They take hold of you, whether you wish them or not.«
(Cave in Pollard and Forsythe 2014: 07:23)

This happened to me almost one year ago. These old military grounds and the mostly abandoned buildings, with their gloomy atmosphere, fascinated me. I started photographing them and researching their history. For over 130 years, this area was used by German, French, and American armies as a training ground, an airfield, and barracks (Eckstein 2008: 15).

Today the area is in a change. When the visible traces are torn down to give place for new housing, nothing will remind of the sites’ history. With this, documenting, telling the stories and thus creating a memory theatre is the »Souvenir of Germany« essence. It is about man’s impact on the land and local history. But local history is caused by world history, which is mirrored here, too.

This portfolio visualises ten episodes of the past, beginning with the German era until 1918 (»The Parade Ground«) followed by the French occupation after the Great War (»Franzosenzeit«).

In the 1930s, the Griesheim airfield was a stronghold of gliding and aeronautical research (»Gliders, Science, Research«). Many developments in aircraft construction that are still valid today came from the Griesheim airfield. But there were also close ties to the military and the Nazi regime.

As a result of the Nazi regime (»Dark Times«) and the World War, Griesheim was also bombed several times; the heaviest attack was on 24. December 1944 (»Mission 760«).

On 24 March 1945, the US Army reached Griesheim (»They reach Griesheim«), ending the war for the town.

The Americans used the military ground until 1992. In the Cold War, the airfield became a missile launch area (»Cold War Scenes«), despite the protest of the inhabitants. Today, this part of the site is a nature reserve, and the bunkers and hangars are abandoned.

Aviation came back too, in the form of American medical evacuation helicopters (»MEDEVAC«) and civil pilots from two flying clubs (»Civil aviation: »Hessenflieger« and »Darmstadt Flying Club«). Today, only the gliders from Darmstadt’s University are allowed to start and land here.

There was journalism, too. The European edition of the Stars and Stripes was edited and printed here until 2005 in a former German Air Force barracks built in 1913.

What’s left today are the buildings and streetlights and gates that look like dinosaurs. There is no need to light the grassy paths or keep people off the military areas through big gates. It is a place used by scientists of several disciplines and a new home for people in the near future.

Walter Benjamin wrote, »Whoever has once begun to open the fan of remembrance will always find new limbs, new rods, no image is enough for him, because he has recognised it: he could let it unfold, the essential is only in the folds…« (Benjamin 2011: I,65). More or less, every day, I find new images, information and stories about this site. Dealing with this area is an ongoing project, which might end with a picture of the first new building.

This is the third portfolio of the »Archivum«-project.

The project was shortlisted in the Urbanautica Institute Awards 2021 and funded by a grant from the Hessian Cultural Foundation (Hessische Kulturstiftung, »Kulturpaket II: Perspektiven öffnen, Vielfalt sichern – Brückenstipendium«) .

At the Parade Ground (1855 – 1918)

»Franzosenzeit« (French Occupation, 1919 - 1930)

Gliders, Science, Research (1927 – 1945)

Dark Times (1933 – 1945)

Mission 760 (24. December 1944)

8th Air Force 760 24 DECEMBER 1944

1. Decision.

Weather forecast at the afternoon conference indicated that high pressure center would be situated over the southwest Germany, causing a condition of no cloud in the bases and in the target areas. 

 It was upon this forecast that the decision was made to dispatch a maximum effort of heavy bombers, which was to be the largest mission yet airborne. Targets were selected in the area of Frankfurt and the battle line.

2. Force.

3rd bomb division was to dispatch all available operational aircraft on airfields at Gross Ostheim, Darmstadt/Griesheim, Biblis, Babenhausen, Frankfurt/Rhein Main and Zellhausen. This would consist of approximately twenty three groups of 36 A/C each. 

3. Plan.

All divisions were to depart UK and penetrate southeast to the target areas.

3rd division was attacking down-wind from the northeast in order to minimize the effect of anti-aircraft defenses in the target areas.

(‘8th Air Force 760 | American Air Museum in Britain’ 2021)