On April 21, 1936, “Air Force Day”, 16 streets in Tempelhof were given a new name. One of the streets in the so-called “Fliegerviertel” (aviator diistrict) is named after Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen (1892 – 1918). He was a German fighter pilot, known as the “Red Baron” and was revered as a hero under National Socialism.
Manfred von Richthofen, who came from a noble Prussian family, attended military school at the age of eleven. At the beginning of World War I in 1914, he was drafted into military service in the cavalry. In 1916 he had himself transferred to the air force. The war effort in the air was new at that time and aviators were considered the elite of the military. Richthofen achieved the highest number of “aerial victories” as a single pilot. Due to the numerical superiority of the British in World War I, Richthofen developed the “flying circus” flight tactic. Here the planes were dismantled between missions and thus the whole unit was mobile, like a traveling circus. Since the Allies quickly saw through this tactic, the German aviators abandoned painting their planes in camouflage colors and painted them in bright colors. Richthofen became known as the “Red Baron” after the war because of his red aircraft. In addition, he was described as “noble” because he let his opponents live in case of a crash. However, Richthofen always tried to get so close to his opponents that he could shoot them directly. Of the more than 100 pilots and crew members shot down, it is estimated that only about a third survived. Richthofen died in action in France on April 21, 1918, when he pursued a British airman too far behind Allied lines and was hit by an Australian anti-aircraft gun.
Exploitation under National Socialism
Richthofen’s squadron was taken over first by Wilhelm Reinhard (1891 – 1918) and then by Hermann Göring (1893 – 1946). In 1935, on the anniversary of Richthofen’s death , the latter introduced the “Honor Day of the German Air Force”, which was celebrated until 1945. In the same year, Adolf Hitler (1889 – 1945) issued a decree that the first unit of the German Air Force – Fighter Squadron 2 “Richthofen” – was to be named after the dead soldier. On “German Air Force Day” in 1936, Göring and other NSDAP leaders ceremoniously dedicated twelve streets in the Tempelhof garden city after fallen World War I fighter pilots – the longest street was named after Manfred von Richthofen.The “Red Baron” was hyped up into a myth under National Socialism and was intended to encourage young men to enlist in the Luftwaffe.
Richthofen’s reception after the war
Even today, the German military establishes a direct line of tradition to Richthofen, completely ignoring the National Socialist instrumentalization. An air force squadron and barracks in Wittmund, which is operated by the Bundeswehr and NATO, are named after him. In fact, in the 1980s, the German government published a decree stating that members of the Wehrmacht and SS were no longer worthy of the tradition. As a result, numerous Bundeswehr barracks were renamed. In 2018, the decree was renewed. This year also marked the ceremonial 100th anniversary of Richthofen’s death in the Bundeswehr barracks named after him. Moreover, the officers of all flying units of the Air Force play the “Red Barons Cup” in soccer every year in his honor.
In addition, a problematic ideological glorification of Richthofen took place in the media after the war. In 1971, the film “Manfred von Richthofen – The Red Baron” was released. In the 1980s, some flight simulator games for Atari were released, set in World War I and called “Red Baron”. On the 90th anniversary of his death in 2008, the German production “Der Rote Baron” starring Matthias Schweighöfer and Til Schweiger was released, which was criticized mainly because of the problematic glorification of Richthofen as a romantic hero and war skeptic, bearing no relation to the historical person Manfred von Richthofen.
Status of the Renaming
Actually, Manfred-von-Richthofen-Straße, like all streets in the “Fliegerviertel”, was to be renamed after the Second World War, but this plan has not yet been implemented.