Messerschmitt Crash in Wernigerode

24 Mar 23 22 Comments

I didn’t expect to fall in love with the train.

When I planned my trip to Germany, I expected that I would be able to keep up with my normal tasks in addition to exploring the countryside and spending time with my mother. I am in Wernigerode, a town that acts as a gateway to the Harz mountains. The town itself is beautiful; half-timber houses surrounding the medieval town centre, with a beautiful castle looming over the cobbled town streets.

The Harz Narrow Gauge Railway starts in Wernigerode and takes passengers all over the region and up to the peak of Brocken mountain, the tallest peak in the range. I figured a train that went straight up a mountain was almost as good as a plane and planned a day to visit the station and take an afternoon trip. In the end, I spent three days going up and down the Brockenbahn portion of the train line, exploring every station on the mountain.

If, for some reason, you should find yourself in Wernigerode, I very much recommend exploring the HSB routes and visiting the mountain peak. I even wondered if I could write a train post for Fear of Landing but unfortunately, or maybe fortunately from your point of view, I was out all day every day and had no time for writing. I also didn’t manage to find out more about the Luftfahrt Museum Wernigerode, a small aviation museum that I thought I might visit on a rainy day. The forecast for the week had looked extremely wet but somehow each day the weather was fine and so I went up the mountain again.

Today, my last day, I had a very hard choice. I could either spend the morning in my hotel room finishing an article for Fear of Landing, or I could go to the local aviation museum.

I think you probably know how this is going to end.

There definitely wasn’t enough time to do the museum and then write about it, as I would be spending half the day on public transport to Berlin for my flight home. And I didn’t have any articles close enough to finished to fall back on.

Everyone is talking about AI lately, so what if, I thought, what if I asked the AI to review the aviation museum for me?

This is what it wrote:

 The Aviation Museum in Wernigerode was founded in 1997 and is located on the grounds of the former airbase at Wernigerode. This site has a rich and profound history, as it served as a frontline airbase during the Second World War and was home to the famous Jagdgeschwader 54 (JG 54) during this time. The museum is dedicated to preserving the history of the site and the stories of the brave men and women who served there.

This introduction to the museum is amazing in that there isn’t a statement here that is true. The AI is hallucinating.

The Aviation Museum opened in 1999. The exhibits include both historical airplanes and modern helicopters but there’s not a specific focus on military aircraft, other than the average aviation enthusiasm for fighter jets.

There has never been an airport at Wernigerode, let alone a military air base hosting the Luftwaffe. There was a light metals foundry which supplied parts for the defence industry, which used forced labour from the Buchenwald concentration camp. This is not a war effort that any German would be celebrating.

Not to mention the idea that Wernigerode, nestled in amongst the Harz mountains, could never have been considered the front line by any stretch of the imagination. When the US forces came marching in, the commander of the city was given the order to fight to the death. He refused it and the town surrendered, which is of course why it is still here.

The Jagdgeschwader 54 did exist but they were never based at the frontline airbase at Wernigerode which never existed.

It seems my job is safe for a little while longer.

The AI went on to list the aircraft at the museum, including two C-130 Hercules and a Canadian CL-215 water bomber which I was pretty sure were not part of the museum display.

So that idea was out the window. I had to make a straight forward choice: stay at the hotel and write something for you or go to the museum.

I was going to pick you, honestly. I’m in the middle of a forested national park: what on earth is an aviation museum doing here anyway?

Truly, I only checked the brochure to see if any of the aircraft listed by the AI were physically at the museum.

And no, there’s not even one C-130 and actually I’m pretty sure that none of the aircraft described by AI are actually on site. But.

But then I saw that they have a Messerschmitt Bf 109 flight simulator.

The Messerschmitt Bf 109 is a World War II fighter aircraft and considered the backbone of the Luftwaffe’s force. As a single-seater, it is also one of many, many aircraft that I would never be allowed to fly.

I’m pretty sure you know where this is going. Yes, I chose the Messerschmitt over you.

If it makes you feel any better, I crashed twice, just trying to take off. Tail draggers are HARD. The third attempt was successful but only because the simulator consisted of only a cockpit — if I’d had wings, I would have scraped the left-hand one off in the take-off that was “successful”.

But the instructor, despite being bemused that I was there by myself in the first place, was patient and kind . Once he worked out that I was able to fly out to sea and make a stable turn, he pushed me to make steep turns (“you are in a fighter plane, you know?”) and started guiding me through a low-level flight around the mountains near Sochi.

It was a hell of an experience and I only wish I could have taken you there with me.

The good news is that I don’t think I’m going to switch to trains any time soon. The bad news is that this is your post for the week.

Category: Fun Stuff,


  • For once, you are forgiven. I am sure that I would have wanted to try that simulator. Although, when I was still an active pilot I simply HATED simulators. They are designed to bring out the very worst in a pilot. The very worst in being able to follow procedures, complete checklists, keep in charge of a complex piece of (imaginary) hardware, all that whilst trying to maintain keeping the overall picture, avoiding a mental overload and managing the situation when at the same time red lights are flashing, all demanding immediate attention. With the added stress that, when failing to “get it right”, the job is on the line.
    In contrast, that Messerschmitt simulator would be FUN, because there is no FAA or CAA appointed instructor ready to take your licence or your ranking in your airline – and with it your job – away.

    • I’m sure I would feel much differently if they had ever been a part of my training. At the end of the session, I got a certificate that said that I had “successfully completed the simulator” which, all I could think is, I wrecked that plane three times (if we count scraping the left wing, which the sim programme clearly didn’t), how is that successful?

  • How could you possibly think that any of your fans would want you to pass up a session in a Bf109 simulator or even pass up an aviation museum just to keep up your correspondence with us?

    We will always be here. You will probably never get another chance at Wernigerode again.

    • That’s what I was thinking — I don’t actually see any reason why I’d ever end up in that part of Germany again. I really would love to make the time to go to more of these small aviation museums. I’m sure they are all really different.

  • You scared me with that title. I thought we lost another irreplaceable vintage aircraft and crew.


    This whole article (except for the AI bit) sounds like exactly what I’d do if I was in your position!

    It sounds like the time I took the Auto Train to Washington DC and just about lived at the Smithsonian Air & Space museum. I need to do that again. I ran my poor friends ragged trying to keep up with me.

    I am SOOOOO very jealous, especially of the simulator bit! They would have had to pry me out of that with a 2×4. And the train bit too. I love trains.

  • Excellent choices! Also nice to see an illustration of the challenges of AI. Just wait till they start flying planes…..

  • Seconded (Thirded? Seventeenthed? Whatever). You’re very much forgiven*. Looks and sounds like you had a wonderful time.


    Of course, I like trains, too…

  • Taildraggers are notoriously hard to control while on the ground, and I hate them!!!

    I have all the main flight sims on PC; DCS, IL-2, MSFS and X-Plane 11/12, and I am absolute rubbish at taxiing in any taildragger in any of them. Just getting to the damn runway is a real effort and one in which I spend most of the time spinning around in circles, and screaming at myself!

    IL-2 has the Messerschmitt Bf 109 and I love flying it. However, stick on a VR headset and you’re in a completely different world – I knew the 109’s cockpit was tight but you really get the feeling of claustrophobia that its pilots had to deal with, it’s really not a nice experience.

    • The instructor actually started me in the air and then said we’d try taking off after I had a chance to get used to the controls. It didn’t really help.

      I landed successfully, if you can count “on the grass next to the runway and then veering over, finishing off facing the wrong way” as successful.

      • Sounds like you did just fine, and way better than I can manage even with all the flight sim gear I have that SHOULD make things easier.

        I think that instructor must have been playing a tactical game – let you get comfortable in the air, watch you manage to get back on the ground in the vicinity of the airfield, and then surprise you with the terror of taxiing back to the hangar!!! ;)

  • A very minor point, the train is inverted on the home page photo;)
    I still enjoyed the write up, good to go of a piste once in a while ! Chris

  • The professionals who flew for the Luftwaffe in the ’30s and ’40s broke their share of 109s, so you’re in good company.

  • On Trains:

    Way back in 1967/8 I spent time working at the Rohidesia Railway Steam Ebgine Workshops in Bulwayo, Southern Rhodesia while studying engineering t Cape Town University. A VARY intersting time learning about the evolution of steam engines from real examples.

    Then in 1978 I got married in Gwelo (Rhodesia). The organist, a dentiest by profession and a family friend, was a stem engine fanatis and member of the Gwelo and District Light Railyway.

    Knowing of my interest he invited us along the next day when he was driving.

    Having had a discussino about the engine, I was invited into the cab while my wife joined his wife in the guards van.

    We left the station and then he said, “Do you want to drive?” I spent the rest of the afternoon driving the engine – with passengers! Obviously woulr not be possible today!

    On AI:

    ChatGPT Jokes About Jesus Being ‘Nailed to a Board’, Refuses to Crack Joke About Muhammad

    Another example of woke bias revealed.

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