Zeppelin Museum near Frankfurt houses airship-era relics
Imagine what it was like for a kid living near a German airfield that served the great zeppelin airships of the 1930s.
Just the sight of such a majestic object floating overhead must have been mesmerizing.
“A band played, hundreds scurried around under the ship shouting farewells,” Webb Miller, an American journalist, wrote of the Hindenburg in 1936. A man “unbuckled his wrist watch and tossed it out as a farewell present to a relative.”
In the mid-1930s, the zeppelin industry in Germany showed enough promise to warrant an airfield on the outskirts of Frankfurt. The airfield was the forerunner to Frankfurt Airport and, until it closed in 2005, Rhein-Main Air Base.
Today, near that original site, there is a small museum dedicated to the colossal crafts of that era.
Commercial travel by zeppelin airships “was big, but it did not last long,” said Klaus Keller of the Zeppelin Museum in Zeppelinheim, Germany.
While Germany used zeppelins in World War I as long-range bombers against British, French and Russian forces, civilian service didn’t take off until well after the war. Keller said civilian transport did exist before WWI, but it often amounted to joy rides over specific sites.
In the late 1920s, despite war reparations and stiff sanctions, Germany began developing zeppelins for civilian international travel, the first two being the Graf Zeppelin and the Hindenburg. Built with a rigid internal frame, the hydrogen-powered zeppelins of Germany flew as far as North and South America.
Keller said operators later sought to switch to helium power, but couldn’t secure enough of the gas from the United States due to an embargo.
“It was a great problem,” Keller said of the helium issue. The helium needed “could only be provided by the United States.”
The town of Zeppelinheim (the home of zeppelins) was created in 1936 as a residential community for the workers who built and serviced the airships, Keller said. That central and unifying purpose began to evaporate a year later when the Hindenburg crashed on May 6, 1937, in Lakehurst, N.J., killing 36 people. The industry limped along for a year or two before it was essentially abandoned.
Partially constructed with a curved section of an old zeppelin airframe, the Zeppelin Museum features display cases that showcase items from that period. The memorabilia include a range of items, from uniforms, charts and navigational equipment to chinaware, pamphlets and a section of rope used to tether a ship.
Also of interest is a partial replica of a zeppelin passenger deck, with a view of Rio de Janeiro “out” the window. Additionally, there is a display dedicated to the 1937 Hindenburg crash, a few parts included.
The museum is conveniently located off of autobahn A-5 near Frankfurt Airport. Keller said some Americans, particularly servicemembers, still stop by the museum when they have a flight to catch or meet.
“Some used to come from the air base here,” Keller said of long-departed Rhein-Main Air Base personnel. “Now, I might see them in between flights.”
Directions: Kapitän-Lehmannstr. 2, 63263 Neu-Isenburg/Zeppelinheim, Germany. The museum is located just east of Autobahn A5, on the southern edge of Frankfurt Airport. Take Exit 23 at Zeppelinheim (where Rhein-Main Air Base once was) and follow signs for Neu-Isenburg/Zeppelinheim/Dreieich. Turn left at the first stoplight onto Flughafenstrasse. Look for signs to the museum.
Times: The museum is open every Friday from 2-5 p.m.; and on Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Costs: Admission is two euros per person.
Information: During operating hours, call: +49-(0)69-69-43-90. The city of Neu-Isenburg can arrange a guided tour by calling, +49-6102-747-434 (or 416). The museum website is: zeppelin-museum-zeppelinheim.de. Clicking on “Welcome” will lead to the English-language section.