Obituary for my friend Konrad Karl-Hermann Dannenberg
* 5th of August 1912 in Weißenfels (German Empire); † 16th of February 2009 in Huntsville, Alabama (USA)
The major internet platforms, as well as newspapers, seem to be biased media. Konrad Dannenberg is always primarily connected to the “V2” rocket. Therein the agitator wording of the Nazis was almost inhaled. “Suum cuique”? In this respect the 40th anniversary of the first manned Moon landing this year, inextricably connected with Wernher von Braun and his “German Mafia” (so they called themselves ironically), leads us to fear the worst….
Details of the life of Konrad are available in the world wide web. But nevertheless I miss something – a personal insight into the life of a scientist and design engineer, which is more interesting then the dumpy incrimination for things from the murky past.
I was blessed in being in close contact with Konrad Dannenberg for almost 12 years. I want to share memories from those 12 years – as an acknowledgment of a real friend and our journey through the “Aggregat 4”.
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On the 13th of May 1997 I sent my first letter to Konrad – as he later asked me to call him. I got his address as usual from my friend Otto Kraehe. In that letter I bombarded Konrad with questions about the German combustion chamber, the American enhancements, and background information about the draftsmen of the different eras.
Despite my wrongly addressing the letter and the time taken for it to reach his correct one, Konrad answered me already on the 24th of May. He answered all my questions. I was informed further about the ingenious draftsman of the TH Dresden, Hans Lindenberg, who the other scientists just called “daddy” Lindenberg. I read in Konrad’s letter more about the influence from Walther Riedel (Riedel III) on the Redstone development and I was looking forward to meeting Konrad in the autumn that year in Germany. During a lecture tour, Konrad participated in the IAF Congress in Turin, where he reported about his dead friend Mitchell R. Sharpe, Jr. and paid a visit to Peenemünde in northern Germany.
I was overwhelmed and excited to meet this specialist of the development of the German combustion chamber, and was especially looking forward to a possible special lecture at the Dresden University of Technology. But there was something mean in the air. Not for the first time and unfortunately not for the last time.
With a fax on the 12th July Konrad let me know that for age and health reasons his journey to Germany, Peenemünde and Dresden had to be canceled. But that was not the whole truth. In a letter of the 18th August 1997 Konrad gave more detail about the cancellation: The journey to Germany was canceled also because of the fact that “all the information I get here about Peenemünde is so very negative. It seems that they plan to erect there a second Dora-Memorial and just talk about the concentration camps but not a bit about the rocket technology that was developed there. This I refuse to support, neither with my money nor with my presence.”
So writing and phoning were the only possibilities for the information transfer during the following months. The book “Peenemünde und seine Erben in Ost und West“, which I wrote with Mr. Michels and which I sent Konrad, produced very positive comments from Konrad even after he had browsed through just a few pages: “Based on what I have already read I can say I really like this book a lot!”
In August 1998 Konrad mentioned that the visit to the IAF Congress in Amsterdam in October 1999 would be his last journey to Europe. In connection with this he would like to come over to Dresden. But at the age of 87 his health situation had to be a factor in any decision to undertake long-distance travel. Meanwhile Konrad sent me a video about “Backfire” and several publications about which I was very glad. Again we would be able to discuss common interests together.
In February 1999 after a long break I finally received post again from Konrad from Madison. Konrad had to have a synthetic hip replacement again. “I came to the hospital in December, stayed there for Christmas and until the New Year, and afterwards I spend two weeks in the rehab. This all for a new hip and because of the painful dislocation. My hip had to be set two times last year and so the doctor suggested a preventative operation.”
In March Konrad was already busy again. “At the moment I am very busy with interviews. Nearly every day I am interviewed by French, Japanese or English guys. They are all working on a review of the century and the 30th anniversary of the Moon Landing. I am invited to speak about the good old days. Soon I will be in Tuscaloosa in Orlando and in Cape in Florida. At my age such things keeps you young. This will be a test run for my Europe journey. We will see how it turns out to be.”
Konrad sent me immediately a treasure from Florida. A photograph from him, standing relatively strong, in front of the blockhouse at the launch site 5/6 with a dedication for me!
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With his fax of the 23rd of July Konrad told me that his son Klaus had finally convinced him to come to Germany for the meeting of the “Interessengemeinschaft Ehemaliger Peenemünder” in September. The time would unfortunately be insufficient for a trip to Dresden. So I had no other choice but to travel up North, to my favorite island. On balance this was good news and I was glad about the opportunity to meet my pen pal personally.
The meeting with Konrad in Peenemünde on the 18th of September was a short but intensive one. I recorded the conversation with a voice recorder and Konrad was mine for a whole hour.
It was a short review of his life with the rocket. The summary of our conversation follows here:
This is specified in detail in Konrad Dannenberg's lecture at the first and only IAF Congress in the GDR - in October 1990 in Dresden - See here:
In January I got "Konnies Yearly Report" for the first time. It was a résumé of the year 1999. See copy here:
At the beginning of 2000 I got a surprising and unique honor from Konrad. Previously I sent him my series of articles about the advancement of the A4-Engine in the USSR (see here <<link>> under "Gerät - Publikationen - Aufsätze"). He sent me acknowledgement of my historical work in Rocket science on a lecture cover from the AIAA Congress in Arlington for memorization of Hermann Oberth. This was an incredible honor which ever since hangs above my desk:
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Other events of the year 2000 related to Konrad can be found in his report from 2000.
When I review all the letters, the amount of energy Konrad still had is nearly unbelievable. I should have asked him how many miles he drove by car a year. And this at the age of 90! In addition I should mention that most of our conversation was via the internet. Incredible for a man of his age! But the big drawback about this is that I did not save the emails well and most of them are lost. So what remains are all the handwritten letters.
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In 2001 the book about Arthur Rudolph written by Kurowski was finally published. I did not need to persuade Konrad to write a review exclusively for the "Raketen*Post". This soon turned out to be a political issue and immediately the know-it-alls piped up.
Here you will find the review by Konrad published in "Raketen*Post" issue 20:
At the beginning of 2002 we discussed possible tributes to Wernher von Braun and his science group in Germany. The community of interest was, amongst other things, planning to hang a commemorative plaque on House Ingeburg in Oberjoch (done on the 3rd October 2003). Konrad was aware of the previous problems and irritations and he wrote to me that only because of the rocket scientists the quiet village of Huntsville became the world famous “Rocket City”: “Here in Huntsville the name “von Braun” has only positive associations. We have the “von Braun Civic Center” in the city where all important events take place. The university has the “von Braun Research Hall”, one of the most important buildings, and the army will build the “von Braun Office Complex” and keep the name also afterwards.”
The „von Braun Team“ is still accredited positively but becomes smaller and smaller. Recently the Space Center again shows the V2/A4 so that all visitors can look at it. For the opening we had a small “Old-timer Party” with Ernst Stuhlinger, Gerhard Reisig, Walter Jacobi, Werner Dahm, Hans Fichtner, Heinz Kampmeier, Ruth von Sauerma (responsible for the international associations of the MSFC under Wernher von Braun - note Przybilski) and me next to other guests and employees of the Space Center….
Last Thursday the National Space Club had the 14th “Wernher von Braun Forum” in the “von Braun Civic Center”.”
2002 was THE anniversary: Konrad's 90th Birthday! The congratulations had to be answered by email because of the high quantity. Here his words of gratitude:
In May 2003 I received amongst others a book in which Konrad was instrumental and did the drawings for. "50 Years of Rockets and Spacecraft in the Rocket City". The colorful book jacket is pretty nice but it covers a leather-bound work with important material of great interest for those interested in Rocket History.
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This book, supported financially by the alumni of the MSFC (NASA-MSFC Retiree Association), was supervised by the first director of the Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ed Buckbee, who was from 1999 to 2002 also president of the association.
This clearly represented work lets every spaceman’s heart beat faster. Not yet published photographs from the beginning of the centre and different personal views on the organization and opinions of leading personages form the highlights of this great book. In the central position is naturally the director of the MSFC from 1950 till 1970 – Wernher von Braun. Konrad initiated the majority of the texts and their coordination.
The gift included, next to Konrad’s dedication for me on the first page, also a letter, which I want to refer to partly. This includes facts about Konrad Dannenbergs way through NASA:
The Year 2003 was especially characterized in the autumn by two highlights. The first highlight was that Konrad reported in October about the celebration “100 years motorized flight” – more of which you can read in the program.
This included one point which didn’t seem so important to me at that time, though Konrad sent an extra flyer.
The speaker Bob Ward was introduced to me by Konrad three years later. That meeting continues to have influence until today…
In November 2003 I had to do some crime analysis. Konrad sent me pictures from a key, which had a big meaning.
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First of all we tried to find out together with friends if the key was authentic or an imitation. The appearance and the condition, together with the company stamp on the back, gave the key an air of authenticity. The moveable front shield looked menacing because of the swastika. The Heereswaffenamt put that sign on each proved part. For an important key the effort could have been more elaborate. Valuable evidence resulted in the marking “HPV” (Heeresversuchsstelle Peenemünde), completion Peenemuende and “F1” (production hall 1 = F1). That suggested an early development period and an exact allocation of the building. The number 35 may suggest building 35 of the origin building planning. Maybe it was a key for an important door. And so as to not lose this key they put such a massive shield on it. The fact that there were 35 keys for the gate of the production hall 1 seems doubtable. It is also not a signet because the font is not mirror inverted.
Konrad was satisfied with that; he wrote to the person who made the enquiry and asked for his opinion. Unfortunately this contact fizzled out. Where is this unique artifact today?
Let’s make a bigger leap in time. At the beginning of the year 2005 Konrad hustled me to finally come to Huntsville. Meanwhile I had also contact to other very interesting people. I would like to give a special mention to Ursula Mueller, the widow of the ingenious gyro designer Dr. Fritz Mueller. “Uschi” took me and later even more my wife to her heart. We have had wonderful days together and also later when she was visiting Germany. I had the pleasure to inherit the technical bequest of Dr. Fritz Mueller which will be the basis for the “Dr.-Mueller-Gyro-Cabinet” in the museum of Dresden.
Now it was time for the travel organization and I had to ask what Huntsville had to offer and what I wanted to see there. Konrad was really helpful in this respect and wrote me a “plan of action”. When my wife heard what I was planning to do, she suggested joining me and making a real vacation out of it. So our 15-day-trip started on the 16th of March 2006 from Dresden via Frankfurt to New York, afterwards with the bus to Washington via Houston to Huntsville by plane, by car via Panama City Beach to Titusville, to Florida and from Orlando home again. We won’t never forget this trip with its formative impressions, the unforgettable experiences and all the nice people we met.
Here one can find a short summary over the days in Alabama in the Raketen*Post 32. Konrad and I were driving trough the Marshall Space Flight Center, the Redstone Arsenal on the first day and inspected the rooms, where Wernher von Braun worked, looked at the rocket engine laboratory and much more. Unfortunately I was not allowed to take pictures in this area (because it was a military area and also because of September 11!). But from the test stands, where the Jupiter/Saturn 1 and the huge first stage of the Saturn V were brought to, I took in each case a concrete piece as a “memorial stone” with me.
During two days I was in the Space Camp and Konrad was my guide. I should have filmed everything with a camcorder. But the memories will remain in my heart for ever.
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Also the files I have seen in the Space Camp, especially these from Dieter Huzel, were extremely interesting and I was allowed to copy documents. Irene Willhite, curator of the exhibition, was strongly supportive of my work there and indicated that loans would be possible in the future. Here the meeting with the director of the Space Camp, Mr. Larry R. Capps, was important as well, and of course initiated by Konrad.
Konrad also organized a meeting with Bob Ward, the author of a very personal biography about Wernher von Braun, "Dr. Space". Bob Ward is a likable and we immediately got on with each other very well. The sense of destiny was that the meeting took place on the 23rd of April - the birthday of Wernher von Braun, so that we included him in our thoughts.
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For all spin doctors here’s a little advice: When you want to compare Wernher von Braun with Goethe’s Faust please consider that von Braun as well as Faust and any other intelligent person is able to develop. Bob Wards book includes a correspondence by von Braun, in which he answered all charges. You can read trough this in the following pages.
In Huntsville Konrad and I talked for hours - In the guest bus in the centre, in the Space Camp or at his house. I had the feeling that he really enjoyed talking with me about the combustion chamber details and the development after the war. He also wanted to know everything about the specialists which were brought to the USSR. I could explain to him that, for example, Helmut Groettrup not for no reason left the group of Wernher von Braun. He had to save himself and his family from the SS.
Konrad’s flat was filled with history. Everywhere were memories about colleagues and astronauts. Even Tschertok signed a N1-Photograph with a dedication. The Mac computer became a window to the wide world for Konrad. He was fortunately able to use it extensively.
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Altogether it was incredible how fit all the people were that we visited – physically and mentally. Looking back it was the right moment for visiting.
In October 2006 was imminent a big meeting for rocket science in Dresden – more to that on the DVD <<link>>, which one can order here. Konrad was unfortunately not able to join the meeting but sent his greetings which included very interesting facts.
In 2007 there was again a kind of “family-meeting”. Because of a request by Mr. Kaschig, Konrad became active. Erich Kaschig – one of the paperclip persons – was famous and the relatives in Germany wanted to know more about him. So Konrad discovered new background information, which I will soon include in the paperclip-list <<link>>.
At the end of 2007 the BIG birthday was imminent: Konrad turned 95! My congratulations, like always before via email, were the following:
Big bother arose again at the end of 2007 out of the media because of the liberal-democratic decision of a committee to name a school after a child of the city – Klaus Riedel. Thereby it was “forgotten” that Riedel, von Braun and Groettrup after their arrest in March 1944 almost stood on the scaffold. I had a discussion with Konrad and suggested him to let someone write a play to which I would offer the technical background information. But for that I needed insider information for the libretto.
Konrad wrote: “I am afraid that I can’t help you in that sad case. We all were really aghast because we always discussed the possibilities of peaceful space technology with good friends. We were hoping that this could happen after the war. Most of us saw this as a main point for rocket development. We wanted to go to the moon and to mars. I never spoke to Wernher or to his brother Magnus after their release about that. We had to be very careful.. You shouldn’t mess with the SS.
Do you really think that a play in a theater could change the opinion of the citizens? Let the dumb die dumb. They are hopeless! More and more people around the world are becoming interested in space technology today; maybe someday the Germans will wake up and see what the have missed.”
So I left it at that and just wrote an open letter.
In April 2008 were the 100th birthday and the 20th anniversary of the death of Eberhard Rees. Already 10 years before I discovered the story about Rees coming through the intervention of Professor Enno Heidebroek of Dresden to Peenemuende (published in the yearbook of the German association for Aerospace – Lilienthat-Obert e.V. (DGLR) – Bonn: ISSN 0070-4083. – 1996, S. 1345-1350; CD “Raketenerbe – Der Beitrag der Technischen Hochschule Dresden, 2004). Today you can find it on WIKIPEDIA as “encyclopedic knowledge” without any source. As additional information: Heidebroek was until the death of this wife responsible as the director for the building of the production line in Peenemuende. As a successor he suggested Mr. Rees to Dornberger. told Konrad about this and his answer was: “Your extract about Rees is really interesting. He was often underestimated. He was always calm and incommunicative, mostly stood in the background. He was in total the opposite of Wernher, but because of that very important for him too. And Wernher realized this. Wernher always had a keen sense of this. Rees was often the brake for Wernher’s great ideas. But Rees was orientated in details and did everything very systematically. He was the real director in Peenemuende. Without Rees there probably were a lot of things out of Wernher’s reach. Rees was very important for the business.
One of his greatest achievements was the leading of the “Tigerteam” at NASA after the APOLLO I fire at the Cape and was on the Apollo Capsule Contractors side and quickly changed the Capsule into a safe spacecraft. Without Rees and the “Tigerteam” the moon landing would not have been on time, and may never have happened. Rees was revered by the personnel. But in spite of everything there was no big Rees ceremony.”
On my birthday in 2008 the USA celebrated “Washington’s Birthday”. But it was called just “Presidents’ day” and Konrad sent me a private note: “On the occasion of your birthday today, on a “President’s Day”, I am sending you best wishes, and above all success with your many plans! Here the day is a holiday and I am staying at home.
By the way, you are certainly up to date about our celebration of the 50th anniversary of the first Explorer Launches and you have got certainly the pictures which were made.
We have invited the daughter of Sergey Korolev because of the importance of the first two launches of Sputnik for the von Braun Team. If they hadn’t been the first, Eisenhower would not have founded NASA and we would not have been to the moon. Hindsight 50 years later!”>> (PDF)
Since summer 2008 our emails often stand under the slogan “an Aggregate 2 for Huntsville?” My experience in making 1:1 models for Kummersdorf and Borkum encouraged me to offer the US Space and Rocket Center on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the A2’s first launch a “steely mock up”.
In the beginning of December 2008 Konrad had an occlusion of his esophagus: “I am fine so far after a blockage caused by food ruined the Sunday-meeting of the “Friends of German culture”. Jackie brought me to the Emergency Room in Huntsville Hospital, where the food was pushed into my stomach. But I was allowed to go home the same evening. The reduced diameter of my esophagus forces me to go to hospital for the same procedure on the last day of the year again. Because of my blood-thinners they couldn’t do it earlier. I hope the next year will start better.
Maybe you are interested in the fact that a lifeboat crew of six people from Weissenfels will visit me in the End of February. They baptized their new life boat Konrad Dannenberg. This six want to get to know me personally. Until now we have just mailed.”
It should be mentioned here that the baptism of a lifeboat was held on the 7th June 2008 in Weissenfels. A multifunctional boat was named after Konrad. After a preliminary selection there remained 12 suggestions. The result was clear. 605 persons voted and out of them 351 (58%) voted for Konrad Dannenberg. In the presence of the Secretary Rüdiger Erben the boat was given its new name.
One of his last emails which I received on the 6th January 2009 included the information that Konrad finally is going to update his memoirs: “I am working together with a German Science and History author from Tuebingen to publish the part of my memoirs about the last days of the 2nd World war and the transit to the USA. I also want to mention the test stands in Peenemuende. But my memories are faded a bit, could you help me?”
Naturally I sent Konrad the required things and updated my documents (last update 13th February 2009) but wondered why Konrad didn’t answer me anymore.
Shortly after his last email Konrad fell with his walker in his house and had to be brought to the hospital. Afterwards he went to the rehab. There he wanted to stay until the building work on his house was finished. Doors, bathroom and other things were to be modified to improve accessibility for a handicapped person and Konrad would be able to move his wheelchair through the house easily.
His death came suddenly and painlessly on the 16th February 2009 at 7 o’clock local time.
A friend is gone, but the dear memories will remain with me for the rest of my life!
Dear Konrad, thank you for everything.
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Many thanks to my daughter Virginie for the great translation. Thank you Alan for your review.