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Aeronautical Monuments in North Rhine - Westphalia

Dimitrij Davydov
Among the European cultural heritage the architectural and technical relicts which date back to the dawn of the aviation era fall in a special category of monuments. This characteristic is first of all connected with the relative small number of early airports which are still remained: whereas airdromes and airports were a preferred target in the wartime, in the peacetime the early aviation constructions had to lose ground out of necessity for modernization. Secondly, protection and preservation of aeronautical monuments causes a problem of its extent. Does it suffice just to preserve the architecturally and historically remarkable airport constructions; among them such outstanding examples of the interwar architecture as the terminals in Dublin - Collinstown and Paris - Le Bourget? Or is it necessary to save old airport complexes as a whole, including the airfields and runways? On the one hand, protection of some selected buildings which has formerly conduced to aviation without the original environment does not cope with their specific characteristic as aeronautical monuments. On the other hand, the question of an adequate use of such ample shut down areas might be posed.

Dublin Airport

Dublin. Collinstwon Airport in 1940 (Source: Ken Finlay Collection)
Some of Europe's early airports which overcame the Second World War and were not demolished in the aftermath are still in use, so the airport in Helsinki-Malimi with its impressing functionalist terminal building which dates back to 1936. In the case of the former airport Munich-Riem (closed in 1992) the few ramains like the "Weapon Hall" (terminal), the tower and a part of the runway became a new reasonable use as parts of a trade fair complex. What fate will the Tempelhof-Airport in Berlin which once belonged to the world's largest airports finally meet, after it has been shut down, is actually not clear.

Airport Cologne-Butzweilerhof

Unlike the famous airports in Munich and Berlin which were both constructed in the second half of the 1930th and thus rather attest to the aesthetic principles of the Third Realm, the aeronautical monuments which remained in North Rhine - Westphalia represent the functionalist architecture. The ensemble of Butzweiler Hof, founded in 1926 as Cologne's first civil airport, soon became an "air hub" of the German West. The present buildings however date back to the enlargement phase in the 1930th. Between 1934 and 1936 a group of architects and engineers, among them Hans Mehrtens and Rudolf Emil Mewes, created an impressing complex which surely belonged to Europe's most advanced airports of the first generation both from the technical and the architectural point of view. The most remarkable part of the airport ensemble is the air terminal with its two different facades. The main one, facing the city, is accentuated by the monumental basalt-lava relief made by Willi Meller which shows the imperial eagle. The chest white-stuccoed airfield-facade with the letters "COLOGNE" is designed in the same functionalist manner as the previous air terminal built in 1926. On the airfield side the cubic terminal-structure with its overhanging flat roof is flanked by veranda-like porches; the former administrative wing connects it with the "Hangar 1" and the striking control tower. Strictly speaking, the tower building only can be considered as a late example of the Bauhaus-Style in Germany. But then, if we compare the Butzweiler Hof airport with some other representative public buildings of the 1930th, a wide influence of the New Objectivity on the airport's architecture can't be denied. Presently, parts of the former airport area are being covered with new buildings. Especially a newly designed access road will be bordered by cottages in a Bauhaus-like manner.

Cologne 1936

Airport Cologne Butzweiler Hof. Air terminal in 1936 (Source: Deutsche Lufthansa AG)

Cologne 2003

Airport Cologne Butzweiler Hof. Air Terminal in 2003

Airport Essen-Mülheim

The airport of the two cities Essen and Mülheim was established in 1925, after the French occupation troops had left. In the 1930th it became the central civil airport of the Ruhr Area. The modern airport complex, ceremonially opened in August 1934, included a representative air terminal with a wide summer patio facing the airfield as well as the three-storied building for the air traffic control which has remained till this day.

Essen Airport

Airport Essen-Mülheim in 1934. Archive photo
The Essen-Mülheim airport, as far as its outward appearance can be reconstructed on the basis of old photos, was bound to the architectonical principles of the New Objectivity. The tower building, although it has lost some significant architectural details (such as the amply overhanging balconies with rounded corners), still reveals a clear and chest functionalist design. Due to the rounded two-storied porch and the ribbon glazing it could be associated with the better known air terminal in Helsinki-Malmi, built by Dag Englund and Vera Rosendahl.

Airport Essen

Airport Essen. Control Tower (Photo: Dimitrij Davydov 2007)
In 1999 a cultural project "L'Europe de l'Air" which was supported by the European Commission's "Raphael" program was launched. The project was concerned with aviation architecture as a part of Europe's twentieth-century heritage and, particularly, with protection and preservation of three airports - Berlin-Tempelhof, Liverpool-Speke and Paris-Le Bourget. Besides of the study of these three architecturally and historically outstanding ensembles the project's aim was to establish a European network of specialists dealing with aviation monuments and, consequently, to make a contribution to the protection and impartation of this special kind of cultural heritage.
Cf. Marieke Kuipers, Bauten der Luftfahrt in den Niederlanden - zwischen Denkmalschutz und Umweltschutz, 2000.
Cf. Friedhelm Ernst, Verkehrsknotenpunkt Köln. Von den Anfängen bis 1956/57, Freiburg 2006.
Cf. E. Mayer, Glanzlichter der frühen Luftfahrt in Köln, Oldenburg 2001.
Cf. Thomas Goege, Flughafen Butzweiler Hof, in: Denkmalpflege im Rheinland, 4. Jg. 1985, p. 27 - 29.
Cf. Frank Radzicki, 80 Jahre Flughafen Essen-Mülheim, Erfurt 2005.
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