Once a massive air base and home to 13000 people, now a partly abandoned civilian airport – the Flughafen Frankfurt-Hahn is kind of a zombie facility in the middle of nowhere, more dead than alive, surrounded by countless abandoned and partly abandoned buildings.
The tax wasting drama began 1951 in Paris, when the occupying French forces decided to build a military airport in the countryside of Rhineland-Palatinate; 100 kilometers west of Frankfurt, Germany. A year later the United States took over and expanded the airfield to the seventh biggest Air Force base in Europe and the second largest in Germany – thanks to the 7356th Air Base Group. In late summer of 1953 the 50th Fighter Bomber Wing was transferred from Cannon Air Force Base in Clovis, New Mexico, and consisted of the 10th Fighter-Bomber, the 81st Fighter-Bomber and the 417th Fighter-Bomber squadrons; the last one being commanded by legendary test pilot Charles Elwood “Chuck” Yeager. Three years later the 50th Fighter Bomber Wing was transferred to France for safety reasons, the Americans being worried that Warsaw Pact forced could overrun West Germany and get hold of the wing’s nuclear weapons. Over the years many different units / squadrons were stationed at Hahn Air Base, including the 496th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, the 7425th Air Base Group, and the 50th Tactical Fighter Wing. When the Cold War ended, Hahn AB was one of seven major US air bases within 100 kilometers – and the first one to be closed. In 1991 all flying units were inactivated or transferred, and on September 30th 1993 most of Hahn Air Base (consisting of 672 apartments in 43 buildings, 25 barracks, 22 office buildings, 52 repair shops, 51 storage buildings, 343 hangars and bunkers, 23 shops, 5 schools, a hospital consisting of four buildings as well as more than 30 leisure facilities, including a golf course, a football field and a shooting range!) was returned to the German authorities, who had already decided to turn it into a civilian airport.
While current the name of the Frankfurt-Hahn Airport is borderline deceit of potential customers (it is located about 100 kilometers away from Frankfurt in another German federal state without a train or direct highway connection), the intentions were good – the remains of Hahn Air Base basically provided everything you needed to run a civilian airport, due to its remote location it came with a night flight permission, and Frankfurt Airport (the real one, 10 kilometers south of Frankfurt) was at its limits anyway. At first named Rhein-Mosel Airport and mostly run by Fraport (the same company responsible for Frankfurt Airport), the former military airport grew quickly from 19k passengers in 1997 to almost 4 million passengers in 2007 – but neither growth nor size means financial success, so Fraport sold its 65% shares to the federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate for 1 EUR – and 120 million EUR in debt. In the following years the state tried to consolidate the airport, but passenger numbers dropped significantly to less than 2.5 million in 2014; a rather insignificant number in comparison to Frankfurt Airport’s 59.5 million. Despite losing about 10 million EUR per year and the state’s futile efforts to sell at least parts of its shares to investors, Rhineland-Palatinate keeps Frankfurt-Hahn running and is even investing it its future, reactivating / expanding a decommissioned railroad track by 2018 to make access to the airport more comfortable.
Meanwhile other parts of the former Hahn Air Base became abandoned and started to fall into disrepair. Despite most buildings being used by the Frankfurt-Hahn Airport, a police academy, and rented to private companies running a variety of businesses, a lot of them were of no / little commercial value in an area with low population density… especially the barracks / apartment buildings and their parking lots. Some have been demolished to accommodate the needs of the new civilian airport, but quite a few are still standing there, with open fences and barely visible “private property” signs.
Although other facilities in rather close proximity are still in use, most of the abandoned apartment buildings suffered severely from vandalism and consequential damages like mold; not so much externally, but inside – hardly any graffiti, but lots of smashed windows, shelves and fixtures. Some of the buildings have been boarded up after initial damages, but after 20 years of standing around without being used, you can see that whoever is in charge of the former housing area has basically given up on it. A handful of blocks were still in decent condition, but most of them looked like they were beyond repair. A few hundred meters away from the main area of abandonment we found a closed “Ringeltaube” (wood pigeon) shop, right next to and in the same building as the commissary of the Hahn AB. (I didn’t know about them either, but my sister was with the German Air Force for several years and did training at / with Lufthansa – and Ringeltaube is a chain of shops exclusively for Lufthansa employees; food and non-food.)
I guess it’s safe to say (and a bad pun) that the future of the airport Frankfurt-Hahn is up in the air – and so is the future of the remains of Hahn Air Base. Looking at the area on GoogleMaps, it is pretty obvious that the level of abandonment has increased since those satellite photos were taken – and so has the amount of destruction. While there were no signs of active demolition work, some of the apartment buildings still visible online are already missing… and the parking lot in front of the Ringeltaube / commissary is not nearly as busy anymore; it actually went down from several dozen cars to… zero. With that in mind it’s only a matter of time until all visible signs of Hahn Air Base are nothing but a memory, absorbed by Frankfurt-Hahn Airport… and nature. Let’s hope that the airport will survive the current struggle and be profitable soon – the livelihood of hundreds, probably thousands of people depends on it. And there are already enough abandoned airports all over the world… *even one in Frankfurt*!
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