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Big Blimpin': We Toured Zeppelin's Germany HQ (And You Can Too)

April 24, 2014 at 7:47 PM | by | ()

Last week, we shared the story of the time we traveled just to visit Southern Germany's Zeppelin Museum. Today, that tale continues as we switch back to first person and head inside Zeppelin HQ.

Part 1: Checking off the Zeppelin Museum
Part 2: Heading into the Zeppelin HQ and hangar
Part 3: Maybe never leaving?

My great-grandmother was born in 1900. She lived long enough that I actually got to know her well, and her presence in my life made 1900 seem like not so very long ago. Of course it most definitely is, as humanity has managed in the last 114 years to progress from the first flight of a Zeppelin (1900) to that of an airplane (1903), and from the dawn of the jet age (1958) to that of Mars exploration (2004).

What brought me to southern Germany was the temptation to experience a bit of that extremely early aviation magic, thanks to what lives in a massive hangar near Friedrichshafen Airport.

You see, Zeppelins do still exist...and they still fly passengers.

While Friedrichshafen is home to the Zeppelin Museum in the city, an easy bus ride outside of town is all it takes to reach Zeppelin Reederei, the modern headquarters for Zeppelin's "Neue Technologie" airships.

There are no aircraft today that come close to equalling the gargantuan dimensions of the infamous LZ 129 Hindenburg. The airships being built now, on Zeppelin's historical home turf, are less than one-third the size. You'll be able to see a couple of them on this side of the Atlantic sooner rather than later, actually, as Goodyear's current blimp fleet is being replaced by shiny new Zeppelin NTs.

Flights range from a 30-minute tour over Friedrichshafen for 200 EUR per person, to a 120-minute complete flight around the Bodensee and the small towns of the three countries that border the lake, for 765 EUR per person. Should you be interested in using the Zeppelin as a mode of transportation, opt for it instead of a private jet, and charter flights may be arranged between Friedrichshafen or Munich and Paris, Berlin, and other European spots with the facilities to dock a blimp. For the truly dedicated, there is a even a pilot program to train for certification as an airship captain.

Unfortunately for me, I had arrived to Friedrichshafen at the end of autumn and caught four straight days of "wintry mix" weather, which necessitated the cozy keeping of the Zeppelins within their hangar. As consolation, I opted for a 9 Euro, 45-minute tour of the hangar, only offered in German and only on Tuesdays and Fridays at 4pm with advance reservation (large groups may request additional tour times and other languages). Whereas the museum in town may focus on the history of Zeppelin, this hangar is all the here-and-now, with exhibits and up-close inspection of the latest big blimpin' technology.

Also of note: there's a rather fancy restaurant adjacent to the hangar. On a nice day with the airships out and flying, it would be the best place for seriously impressive photographs. I'm already planning a return for just such a day and, hopefully, a little pre-lunch scenic flight.

Part 1: Checking off the Zeppelin Museum
Part 2: Heading into the Zeppelin HQ and hangar
Part 3: Maybe never leaving?

[Photos: Cynthia Drescher]

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