“Oh, the humanity,” cried a radio announcer on May 6, 1937, as the German airship, the Hindenburg, exploded in flames while landing outside New York City. For many people this is all they know of airships — that category of “lighter than air” craft which includes dirigibles and blimps.

For a few years in the late 1930s airships flew passengers around the world in luxury, and some aviation experts speculated they would be the future of worldwide passenger aviation. With the Hindenburg disaster covered widely by radio and newsreels, and the improvement of long-range airplanes, the airship’s days were numbered.

Frankfurt was one of the main terminals from which the great airships flew, and the small town of Zeppelinheim was built nearby to house the airship workers.

The Zeppelinheim Museum, just across the Autobahn from Frankfurt Airport, is today a treasure trove of artifacts on the era of the great airships.

The museum

The museum was completed in 1988 and its curved roof mirrors the shape and diameter as the LZ-10 airship. The small 300-square-meter museum is packed with items from 40 years of zeppelin airships. The museum displays uniforms, cabin decorations and dining room place settings, log books and guest books, engines, flight instruments and mechanical parts, and advertising from the Zeppelin Company. Scale models of the various airships hang overhead. The museum has a small cinema, gift shop, and groups are welcome.

The town

The Frankfurt Airport was the starting point of the zeppelin routes to North and South America. As the transatlantic airship service expanded, housing for the flying and ground personnel had to be provided near the airport. Construction of a town named Zeppelinheim started in 1935, and the first buildings were ready in 1937. On Jan. 1, 1938, the status of an independent community was given to Zeppelinheim. After 39 years, in 1977, Zeppelinheim became part of Neu-Isenburg and lost its independence. Today, the town is a pleasant place for a walk along wooded paths. One path leads to a walkway across the Autobahn to a place where you can watch the jetliners land and take off at Frankfurt International Airport.

The Hindenburg

The zeppelin Hindenburg was destroyed while landing at Lakehurst Naval Air Station in New Jersey May 6, 1937. Of 61 crew and 36 passengers, 22 crew and 13 passengers died in the explosion along with a ground crewman, Navy Linesman Allen Hagaman.

Longer than three Boeing 747s, the Hindenburg and her sister-ship, Graf Zeppelin II, were the two largest aircraft ever built — 804 feet long and 135 feet in diameter. They had cabins for 50 passengers (upgraded to 72 in 1937) and a crew of 61. The Hindenburg was designed to be filled with helium, but a U.S. embargo forced the Germans to use highly flammable hydrogen. The popular perception is that the Hindenburg was destroyed on its maiden voyage. Unlike the Titanic, the zeppelin had flown for over a year before the disaster. In 1936 the Hindenburg flew 191,583 miles carrying 2,798 passengers and 160 tons of freight and mail. In that year the ship made 17 trans-Atlantic flights with 10 to the United States and seven to Brazil. It also made a record-breaking Atlantic double-crossing in five days, 19 hours and 51 minutes.

At the airport

If you look carefully the next time you fly from Frankfurt Airport, look at the east end of the runways and you can see the large circles of pavement where the wheel of the zeppelin rolled while moored. Airships were moored to a tower at the nose and allowed to rotate with the wind, their single wheel riding on a sidewalk-width concrete circle.

Lakehurst Naval Air Station

The Hindenburg disaster occurred at the Lakehurst Naval Air Station airship field in New Jersey south of New York City. You can find more information at the Navy Lakehurst Historical Society website at www.nlhs.com. More information on the Hindenburg disaster, with links to video and audio clips, is online at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hindenburg_disaster.

Special exhibit

The museum will host a special exhibit of photos and information about two civil zeppelins, the Bodensee und Nordstern, built after World War I which were given to France and Italy as part of Germany’s war reparations. The exhibit will continue until October.

Directions

Exit the A5 at exit 23 (first exit south of the A3 and A5 intersection) towards Zeppelinheim. This is the same exit, but traveling in the opposite direction as going to the former Rhein-Main Air Force Base. Turn left at the first traffic lights into the town of Zeppelinheim. Follow the main road. The museum is signposted and on the left. If you use B44, take the exit Zeppelinheim and continue on the main road into the town. The museum is signposted.
By public transport

From Frankfurt airport (terminal 1) Take bus OF-51 heading toward Gravenbruch-Ost. Get off at the bus stop Zeppelinheim – Ludwig-Dürr-Straße. It is a two minute walk to the museum.
Take the S-Bahn S7 Frankfurt to Goddelau-Erfelden and get off at the “Zeppelinheim Bhf.” There you will find a map of the town to find your way to the museum.

Address

Zeppelin-Museum Zeppelinheim

Kapitän-Lehmann-Str. 2

63263 Neu-Isenburg/Zeppelinheim

(069) 694 390

For information about the museum or website email Margot.Chelius@zeppelin-museum -zeppelinheim.de or www.zeppelin-museum-zeppelinheim.de.

Museum hours

Open Friday 1-5 p.m., Saturday, Sunday and public holidays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The museum is closed Dec. 23 to Jan. 4.

Entry is free. For guided group tours up to 20 people, 25 plus 1 for each additional person. Guided tours take place Tuesday to Sunday.

Groups must register by phone, fax or email with the Kulturoffice Neu-Isenburg. Call civ (06102) 747 434/747 416.

Zeppelin Museum Friedrichshafen

The Zeppelin Museum at Friedrichshafen (the home of Count von Zeppelin and where the airships were built) offers a repository of objects on airship flight and technology, ranging from the beginnings to the new Zeppelin NT. The museum is housed in the former Harbor Railway Station located on the promenade of Lake Constance. Visit www.zeppelin-museum.de for details.