In Friedrichshafen, the Zeppelin Holds a Special Place

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Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin launched his first flying machine from Lake Constance here in 1900.

Thus began a chapter of aviation history that would propel Friedrichshafen onto the world stage, make it a prominent target for Allied bombs during World War II and ultimately bequeath to the city a sizable foundation financed by the successor companies to Zeppelin's original enterprise.

According to the city, the foundation generates from $60 million to $80 million a year for a population of just 57,000. That largess supports projects as varied as school lunches for underprivileged children, sports teams and a new library. It was the threat of losing the foundation that nudged the town fathers to get back into the zeppelin business two decades ago... Thanks to their low fuel consumption, airships are enjoying renewed attention as an alternative in an era of high fuel prices. But while zeppelins inspire enormous loyalty among those who work on them and a sense of wonder among many who watch them soar, the financial returns have barely gotten off the ground...

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