He participated in the era of Quick-Change, has also delivered cargo to its destination without using a computer and at Frankfurt Airport has constantly wandered in a westerly direction. The exciting years with German Cargo have also left their mark on Detlef Schlemmer. The fact that after 37 years with Lufthansa Cargo he could not simply say good-bye to aviation, was understandable. Now he is treasurer of the Community of Former Lufthansa employees in the Frankfurt Regional Association.
According to him, he had already been interested as a youngster in airplanes. At the age of 12 he nearly flattened his nose leaning against the fence of the US-military airport Zweibrücken. When he was 14 he sat for the first time in a glider. With 17 he had his glider's license. Then, an apprenticeship with a small forwarding agency kindled his second passion: “Transporting cargo has always fascinated me“. It was really only a matter of time, that his vocation would lead him to the airport. It was in 1968. In Zweibrücken he saw a poster with the inscription „Frankfurt Airport - the sleeping giant“. At this moment it was clear to the then 23-year-old young man: „This is it“. His father further motivated his son: „Go to Lufthansa. That is a State company with high job security“.
Detlef Schlemmer sent in his application, was invited to the assessement center, passed it, completed the A1 training-course and landed, finally, as an air-cargo agent in the Freight-Yard 1. Then, three years later, Schlemmer and his Lufthansa colleagues from the department “Airfreight” - independent Lufthansa Cargo didn't exist yet – had to relocate for the first time. „Our business took-off rapidly“, remembers Schlemmer about the early 70s: „The freight-yard was soon too small and, besides, the former Airport Corp. -today Fraport -needed the area for its own expansion.
Air Cargo was constantly celebrating new record highs. Detlef Schlemmer became Coordinator of the "Quick-Change" program. Because there were not enough capacities with respect to the amount of cargo, Lufthansa aircraft were altered in the evening hours to freighters. This went relatively quickly. One screwed together two rows of three seats arranged side by side on a metal plate and anchored them again as a unit firmly on the floor of the aircraft. With a few flicks of the wrist, trained cabin mechanics dismantled the seats and created place for the pieces of freight. They were stowed away in containers called "igloos", which were adapted to the contour of the airplane and were open on one side for loading. Then the aircraft took off for Stuttgart, Cologne, London or Paris.
At that time cargo was transported only sporadically with the truck. In the mornings between 5:00 and 6:00 AM, after the nightly cargo flights, the jets were transformed once again into passenger planes. It was a „thrilling, exciting time“ Schlemmer remembers.
When the airport operator FAG in the middle of the 70s discovered that air cargo was a lucrative business and established its own freight-yard, the western part of the airport area was set up as a freight location. Then in 1982, Lufthansa Cargo with the opening of Lufthansa Cargo Center (LCC) set new standards in the handling of freight. Detlef Schlemmer had to move again.
It became even more exciting. In 1985 Detlef Schlemmer transferred to the ground operations of German Cargo. This was founded in 1977 as the charter company responsible for Lufthansa's cargo business. This was because, more and more often, inquiries came from forwarders for special jobs which the passenger airlines could not fulfill. These included the re-location of an entire sewing machine factory from the Schwabian Alps to Morocco, because the production was cheaper there. And the East-African-Safari-Rally used German Cargo exclusively to fly the rally-cars of the participants to Kenya or Tanzania. Then, on the way back, flowers and vegetables from Kenya were on board in a grand scale.
Air cargo profited as never before from the fantastic economic rise of the gulf states- thanks to their oil wealth. The sheiks bought with their money that what wasn't as yet available on site. Whole plants for the desalination of sea water, high tech for the oil industry and machines and equipment for the building industry. In addition, foodstuffs were highly desired. „We flew whole airplane loads full of tomatoes, cucumbers and vegetables from Holland to Abu Dhabi, Doha or Dubai“, says Schlemmer. Later cattle, black and white Holstein cows and large amounts of day-old chicken were transported. Between 1986 and 1989 Schlemmer and his team organized the transport of several thousand cattle to Kuwait. Sometimes it looked like a cattle market at Frankfurt airport.
What sounds so easy, was first of all a logistic challenge. „We had never flown cattle before“, Schlemmer says and remembers: “We had to develop a precise planning of the transports from the time of delivery to the loading of the airplanes“. The men from German Cargo were cargo experts, but they weren't farmers. What does an animal like this need to eat, or to drink. How do we transport the animals in the airplane? All at first unsolved questions.
The result of the brainstorming was an invention which still exists in a modernized form today: A portable stable composed of four side panels with a sort of rubber mat for the floor, covered generously with highly absorbent wood shavings. In it was room for from six or seven cows, depending upon the weight. Seventeen such stables fitted onto an airplane.
Modified and equipped with partitions, the invention of 1986 is used today as a horse stable. Whether Olympic games, the show-jumper championat of the dressage world championships: Lufthansa Cargo is the carrier for the equestrian sport. „There are horses“, Detlef Schlemmer knows from experience, “that have flown more often than a great number of people“.
With Perestroika and Glasnost in the mid-80s, new objects of desire had emerged in the states of the former Soviet Union. And again Schlemmer with his team had to improvise. Suddenly, US cigarettes were desired or whole hospitals wanted completely new equipment. Schlemmer organized "tobacco bombers" from the USA to Moscow or saw to it that the entire hospital fixtures- from beds to the operating rooms as well as things like surgical scissors - were flown to Yekaterinburg.
A brilliant aeronautical achievement was an assignment which the German Cargo won for itself in the face of strong competition in 1991, during the course of a public invitation to tender by the United Nations Organization “Food and Agriculture Organization” (FAO). In Libya, a fly found only in South- and Central America, which lays her eggs in the wounds of cattle, sheep or camels and whose maggots kill, finally, the host, was apparently brought in with an animal transport. After all countermeasures had remained without success - even the infamous DDT had had no effect -a counter-strategy was developed by the FAO. In the Mexican city Tuxtla ( Gutièrrez), male flies were exposed to radioactive rays, thus making them infertile and afterwards flown to Libya. There the infertile males were released in such big numbers that the indigenous fertile males were edged out in the fight for the females. The result: After one and a half years the fly pest came to an end in Libya. Up until then then German Cargo had flown 1.3 billion flies from Mexico to Libya.
The Zloty transports did not approach this number, although at that time certainly billions were also in the game. Detlef Schlemmer has never found out the exact number: It was in a way a state secret.
The Polish National Bank had decided on a currency reform on the 1st of January,1997. New bank notes and coins were introduced, and for every new Zloty,10,000 old Zlotys were taken out of circulation. The notes were printed by the Munich specialist Giesecke & Devrient. German Cargo flew the currency from Frankfurt to Warsaw: The flights were once a week- week after week.
The new bank notes were loaded under the strictest security measures. The armored monetary vehicles, escorted by the police, drove alongside the DC 8-machines. Only there, the shipment was put on pallets and loaded on the airplane. Aboard the aircraft was also Detlef Schlemmer. In Warsaw he handed over the million-Zloty- cargo to the Polish military and afterward always took a deep breath.
Schlemmer has grown up with aviation. The fact that he got to know his present wife Irene and then married her in 1973, presumably has little to do with coincidence. It can even be called predestination: After all, Hugo Junkers, designer of the famous JU 52, was a cousin of Schlemmer's father-in-law.