The Airship

(Das Luftschiff)

GDR, 1982, 116 min, color
In German; English subtitles
Set Design
Costume Design
Music (Score)


Franz Xaver Stannebein, a young boy at the turn of the 20th century, wants to do nothing more than fly. He carries this obsessive dream into his adulthood as a merchant in Spain. One day, he meets German industrialists who want to fund his idea—but they ask him to first build an airfield in Spain. When the Nazis use the field during the Spanish Civil War, Stannebein feels betrayed. To register his complaint, he goes to Germany, where he is committed to an insane asylum in Leipzig. After WWII, his grandson and other family members search for him, only to find the asylum empty...


This experimental film is based on the novel Das Luft-Schiff. Biografische Nachlässe zu den Fantasien meines Großvaters (1974) by Fritz Rudolf Fries. Director Rainer Simon collaborated on this experimental feature film with composer Friedrich Goldmann, Roland Dressel—his longstanding director of photography and one of the leading cinematographers of his time—and renowned media artist Lutz Dammbeck, who created the non-camera animation.


2016 Film:ReStored_01, First Film Heritage Festival of the Deutsche Kinemathek, Berlin
2008 Artist-In-Residence Program, Amherst
1984 Best Camera, National Film Festival, Karl Marx Stadt


Press comments

The Airship is one of the most unconventional feature films ever produced in East Germany.”  —Munich Film Museum   


"…the topic of flying is nothing but a metaphor for freedom and self-determination."  —   


"…the topic of flying is nothing but a metaphor for freedom and self-determination."  —F. B. Habel, Das große Lexikon der DEFA-Spielfilme


“The film catches the turn-of-the [20th] century atmosphere.” —Variety


“In the prominent role it gave to modernist music, The Airship remains […] an unusual experiment.”  —Larson Powell, Re-Imagining DEFA: East German Cinema in Its National and Transnational Context


“The first full-length experimental film made by DEFA.”  "—Heinz Kersten, Der Freitag


“An ambitious work with respect to narrative as well as the visual.”  —arsenal Cinema, Berlin


“I rarely saw a DEFA feature film so rich in inventive images and unusual visual compositions. The film dives into visual experimentation.”  —Matthias Struch, Die Zeit, die Welt und das Ich


The Airship ventures into surrealistic domains. It flies past the theater of the absurd; embarks fascinatingly into the non-camera animation of Leipzig graphic designer and filmmaker Lutz Dammbeck; and plentifully sends visual signals (from popular erotic symbols to subtle encrypted allegories).”  —Fred Gehler, Sonntag


“Rainer Simon’s production opposed conventional viewing habits. He also invited other nonconformist artists to collaborate with him, such as film and performance artist Lutz Dammbeck, who scraped animation directly into film negative, and avant-gardist Friedrich Goldmann, who wrote the score.”  —Potsdam Film Museum


Buy the DVDStream
DVD Bonus Features:
  • New digitally restored transfer
  • Biographies & Filmographies
  • “The Flights of Franz Xaver Stannebein,” by film historian Matthias Struch
  • Director Rainer Simon on The Airship (Germany, 2018, dir. Nadine Fuhrhop, 11 min., color, English subtitles)

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