Monday, March 30, 2009

Xaver Maier

Crew Member

Age: 25

Hometown: Walldorf, Germany

Occupation: Head chef

Location at time of fire: Kitchen


Xaver Maier was the head chef on the Hindenburg. Having previously been head chef at the Ritz in Paris, Maier had been flying as a Zeppelin cook since 1933, first aboard the LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin, and then when the Hindenburg was commissioned in 1936 he was assigned to the new ship.

Xaver Maier preparing lobsters in the galley of the Graf Zeppelin, circa 1934. (photo courtesy of the Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmBH Archive)

Maier flew on every flight the Hindenburg made in 1936 and early 1937, and during the first weekend in May of 1937 he oversaw the provisioning of the ship for the first North American flight of the 1937 season. He would later recall how on the day before the ship's May 3rd departure, officials from the Gestapo and the SS's security division, reacting to the increasing number of bomb threats that the Hindenburg had been receiving and conducting an exhaustive pre-flight search of the airship, had made an unusually thorough inspection of the kitchen and particularly the food storage compartments. Maier guided the security officers back along the lower keel walkway to the three storage areas. He noted with some exasperation that they made a special point of spending what Maier considered to be an inordinate amount of time in the compartment where the canned and preserved goods were kept, opening and sampling tins of game meat, caviar, and other expensive delicacies – all of which would need to be replaced before the ship sailed the following day.

Other than this comparatively minor annoyance, however, Xaver Maier noticed nothing particularly out of the ordinary during the flight to the United States. He had his two main chefs with him, Alfred Grözinger and Albert Stöffler, as well as two new kitchen assistants, Richard Müller and Fritz Flackus. Between the five of them, they would provide three meals a day, not including incidental snacks, for 36 passengers and 61 crew members (themselves included.) On the return flight they would have almost twice as many passengers to feed, as the Hindenburg was fully booked with people traveling to England for the coronation of George VI the following week. At least, as Maier would later note, there were no problems with the equipment in the ship's all-electric kitchen during the westbound flight.

Xaver Maier (left) and Alfred Grözinger (right) working in the Hindenburg's kitchen during one of the ship's 1936 flights.
(photo courtesy of the Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmBH Archive)

As the Hindenburg came in to land at Lakehurst at the end of the flight on the evening of May 6th, Maier was in the kitchen down on B-deck, just below the portside dining room. Maier heard the landing signal sound at approximately 7:00 PM, and a short while later he saw radio officer Franz Eichelmann take a call on the ship's phone nearby, relaying an order from the control car for six of the off-duty men in the crew's mess to take positions forward. Three of Maier's cooks, Grözinger and the two young trainees, Flackus and Müller, were among those who responded to the order and left the kitchen area to make their way to the bow.

Xaver Maier's location on B-Deck at the time of the fire.

Maier was putting away a stack of clean dishes. He had just set a plate in the scullery when he heard a detonation, closely followed by a sharp jolt which knocked him on his back. As he grabbed a girder next to the scullery and pulled himself up, Maier noticed that the ship was taking a steep inclination aft, sending dishes falling to the floor. He wasn't sure what had gone wrong, but he knew he'd better get out of the ship. He then looked out of the kitchen entrance and saw cabin boy Werner Franz dropping out through a service hatch out in the keel corridor near the door to the purser's office and the smoking room. Maier followed, jumping from a height of approximately 10-15 feet.

One of the Hindenburg's cooks (arrow), either Xaver Maier or Albert Stöffler, just barely visible by his kitchen whites, runs to safety as the ship's hull collapses behind him.

As he scrambled out from underneath the falling hull, he noticed for the first time that the ship was on fire. With the ship collapsing to earth just behind him, Maier escaped the wreck virtually unharmed. His kitchen whites were not even scorched, and he was filmed by the Movietone newsreel crew at the scene as sailors led him away to the infirmary, smoking a cigarette as he walked.

Xaver Maier, cigarette in hand, being led away from the Hindenburg wreck.

Maier stayed in the States long enough to testify before the US Commerce Department's Board of Inquiry on May 13th, exactly a week after the disaster. He sailed for Germany two days later on May 15th with the surviving members of his kitchen staff, as well as the surviving steward crew, onboard the steamship Europa. Maier survived the war, and thereafter continued to ply his trade at fine German hotels such as the Parc Hotel in Frankfurt.

Xaver Maier passed away in the late 1990s.



If'in moi remembers correctly it 'twere Herb Morrison, from on over at WVU, that did the Hindenburg radio spot.

Patrick Russell said...

Hi Tor,

Indeed, Herb Morrison did the infamous Hindenburg radio broadcast (actually a recording that was played back over the air later on) and he later retired in Morgantown, WV where I believe he did some lecturing at WVU.