The East German passport of an Interflug-Pilot

Airline history German passport Interflug pilot

Deutsche Lufthansa was Germany’s flag carrier until the end of World War II. Following the allied conquest, all planes in the country were captured, and the airline stopped operations in 1954. Nonetheless, Lufthansa’s name was soon trademarked in West Germany, followed by Deutsche Lufthansa’s trademarking in East Germany. Officials in East Germany were concerned about potential legal complications with a name close to the initial trademarking over the border. As a result, it established Interflug in 1958 just in case there were any issues. Deutsche Lufthansa was eventually disbanded in 1963 due to weak financials. Its operations were then transferred over to Interflug to handle.

Photo: Ralf Manteufel via Wikimedia Commons

Interflug was located at Berlin Schönefeld Airport and primarily operated a fleet of recognizable Soviet planes over the years. The Ilyushin Il-18, Il-62, Tupolev Tu-134, and Tupolev Tu-154 were among the models available. There were, however, a few more additions along the road. The Czechoslovak Aero Ae-45, for example, entered in 1956 before departing in 1961. In 1989, an Airbus A310 joined Interflug during its latter years. Then a Dash 8-100 emerged the next year. Following reunification in 1990, however, these units saw little action since the company was quickly liquidated. German passport Interflug pilot

Two Tu-134As with the aircraft identifiers DDR-SDH and DDR-SDI of the Ministry of State Security were also stationed at Schönefeld. These aircraft flew with Interflug identification and livery. Officially, today, with their appearance as civilian Interflug aircraft, overflight permits were easier to obtain. Among other things, they were used to repatriating GDR citizens who had committed crimes abroad. The plane was owned by Interflug, which was also responsible for maintenance, repair, and technical handling. Both aircraft were operationally subordinate to Transport Air Wing 44 of the NVA Air Force.

The airline primarily served countries that were members of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance during its years of operation (COMECON). This was an economic union that mainly included countries from the Eastern Bloc and other communist countries worldwide. As a result, the operator served many of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia locations, including Moscow, Minsk, Kyiv, Leningrad, Ljubljana, Split, and Zagreb. It also flew to several cities in both East and West Germany.

The airline also served to other distant COMECON countries worldwide and various other short and medium-range trips to European, North African, and Middle Eastern cities. It began flying to Havana, Cuba, and Hanoi, Vietnam, in 1975.

Altogether, Interflug was notably unprofitable in its latter years, but it did have a potentially lucrative route map. Following the fall of the Berlin Wall, Lufthansa was interested in purchasing 26% of the airline. Eventually, this move was blocked by antitrust groups. Furthermore, British Airways made an offer, but the United Kingdom’s flag carrier instead formed Deutsche BA.

Following unification, the airline couldn’t find any suitable investors, and it was liquidated in April 1991. Before its final days, it held 39 planes and employed 2,900 people. Several prospective buyers preferred to let the carrier dissolve to develop the market with their assets. A Tu-134 performed Interflug’s last flight, Vienna to Berlin on April 30th, 1991.

Staff selected for Interflug had to pass a detailed background check as those people were privileged to fly also abroad, and the airline/government had to ensure they all returned.

The passport and further documents

After more than three decades of German reunification, I am excited to present this East German (GDR) passport of an INTERFLUG PILOT, which comes with additional documents of his career in the only national airline of East Germany. The documents displayed here belonged once to flight captain HERMANN ENTRICH, born 1934 and a long-time member of the airline from, at least, 1959 onwards until the end of the airline.

Brief biography

Former flight captain Hermann Entrich, was most recently captain on one of the best-known IL-18s, the “gray mouse”, DDR-STP, our measuring machine, which replaced the IL-14, DDR-SAL, after many years of service. Hermann began his career in civil aviation as a radio operator on the IL-14 with Deutsche Lufthansa. Even back then, he was considered a knowledgeable and reliable colleague in the cockpit.

Hermann started his career in civil aviation as a radio operator with Lufthansa on the IL-14. Even then, he was regarded as an expert and reliable colleague in the pilot’s cockpit on February 28, 1959, with the maiden flight to Copenhagen (from left to right radio operator/navigator Karl-Hugo Steinke, co-pilot Jochen Görlich, first minimum for instrument approaches underlay. Together with the flight captain, Dieter Sachse made the first sightseeing flight with the IL-14 to Athens. Enrich passed away at the age of 71 in 2005.

This document is outstanding and extraordinarily rare, considering this man was not only an early member of the GDR LUFTHANSA / INTERFLUG but also a FLIGHT CAPTAIN! Delighted to have this document set in my collection.

East German couple traveling to Cuba

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1. What are the earliest known examples of passports, and how have they evolved?

The word "passport" came up only in the mid 15th Century. Before that, such documents were safe conducts, recommendations or protection letters. On a practical aspect, the earliest passport I have seen was from the mid 16th Century. Read more...

2. Are there any notable historical figures or personalities whose passports are highly sought after by collectors?

Every collector is doing well to define his collection focus, and yes, there are collectors looking for Celebrity passports and travel documents of historical figures like Winston Churchill, Brothers Grimm, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Read more...

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"Passports" before the 18th Century had a pure functional character. Security features were, in the best case, a watermark and a wax seal. Forgery, back then, was not an issue like it is nowadays. Only from the 1980s on, security features became a thing. A state-of-the-art passport nowadays has dozens of security features - visible and invisible. Some are known only by the security document printer itself. Read more...

4. What are some of the rarest and most valuable historical passports that have ever been sold or auctioned?

Lou Gehrig, Victor Tsoi, Marilyn Monroe, James Joyce, and Albert Einstein when it comes to the most expensive ones. Read more...

5. How do diplomatic passports differ from regular passports, and what makes them significant to collectors?

Such documents were often held by officials in high ranks, like ambassadors, consuls or special envoys. Furthermore, these travel documents are often frequently traveled. Hence, they hold a tapestry of stamps or visas. Partly from unusual places.

6. Can you provide insights into the stories behind specific historical passports that offer unique insights into past travel and migration trends?

A passport tells the story of its bearer and these stories can be everything - surprising, sad, vivid. Isabella Bird and her travels (1831-1904) or Mary Kingsley, a fearless Lady explorer.

7. What role did passports play during significant historical events, such as wartime travel restrictions or international treaties?

During war, a passport could have been a matter of life or death. Especially, when we are looking into WWII and the Holocaust. And yes, during that time, passports and similar documents were often forged to escape and save lives. Example...

8. How has the emergence of digital passports and biometric identification impacted the world of passport collecting?

Current modern passports having now often a sparkling, flashy design. This has mainly two reasons. 1. Improved security and 2. Displaying a countries' heritage, icons, and important figures or achievements. I can fully understand that those modern documents are wanted, especially by younger collectors.

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Yes, the University of Western Sidney Library has e.g. a passport collection of the former prime minister Hon Edward Gough Whitlam and his wife Margaret. They are all diplomatic passports and I had the pleasure to apprise them. I hold e.g. a collection of almost all types of the German Empire passports (only 2 types are still missing). Also, my East German passport collection is quite extensive with pretty rare passport types.

10. Where can passport collectors find reliable resources and reputable sellers to expand their collection and learn more about passport history?

A good start is eBay, Delcampe, flea markets, garage or estate sales. The more significant travel documents you probably find at the classic auction houses. Sometimes I also offer documents from my archive/collection. See offers... As you are already here, you surely found a great source on the topic 😉

Other great sources are: Scottish Passports, The Nansen passport, The secret lives of diplomatic couriers

11. Is vintage passport collecting legal? What are the regulations and considerations collectors should know when acquiring historical passports?

First, it's important to stress that each country has its own laws when it comes to passports. Collecting old vintage passports for historical or educational reasons is safe and legal, or at least tolerated. More details on the legal aspects are here...

Does this article spark your curiosity about passport collecting and the history of passports? With this valuable information, you have a good basis to start your own passport collection.

Question? Contact me...