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urbanks is a labour of love, a one-man band. There isn’t, strictly speaking, an ‘us’. As a solo project, the urbanks website grows incrementally, one page at a time. Concerned with urbanity, urbanks looks at the historical and geopolitical events that have shaped our towns and cities, primarily those of the 20th century.

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RAF Laarbruch

RAF Laarbruch Weeze Urban Exploring Urbex
RAF Laarbruch Weeze Urban Exploring Urbex
RAF Laarbruch Weeze Urban Exploring Urbex

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During the Second World War, the Allies made extensive use of something called, ‘Advanced Landing Grounds’. Essentially, Advanced Landing Grounds were mobile runways that could be transported on the back of trucks to strategic locations and deployed on demand. Planes, therefore, could take off and land from locations far closer to the enemy line. In 1945 in Goch, the British army set up an Advanced Landing Ground in preparation for an offensive to cross the river Rhine.

Nine years later, in 1954, the British Royal Air Force returned to the site of the original Advanced Landing Ground in Goch, but this time built a permanent airfield. The Second World War may have long since ended, but the Cold War was starting to become a reality. The new airfield – named RAF Laarbruch – quickly became an important element in the British and NATO response to the perceived threat of the Soviet Union.

‘Eine Feste Burg’ was RAF Laarbruch’s motto, meaning ‘a strong fortress’. It certainly was a strong fortress, housing BAe Buccaneers, Jaguars, Tornadoes, Harrier, Chinook and Puma aircraft. As well as air power, RAF Laarbruch was able to project force and provide defence with surface-to-air missiles. Stationed at RAF Laarbruch were several first-line squadrons, which meant that there were over 2,300 uniformed personnel working at the site at any given time.

1,570 families lived within the grounds, housed in the married living quarters. There were two schools, used by over 2,300 children. The site also housed five shops including a Naafi. There were two post offices, an Astra cinema, a nuclear bunker, two banks and a building society. The population of RAF Laarbruch was larger than many of the nearby German and Dutch towns. It was, in actual fact, the largest employer for over 40 kilometres in any direction.

The airfield remained open throughout the entire length of the Cold War, eventually closing in 1999, a full ten years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. In the interim period – between the end of the Cold War and the airfield’s eventual closure – the RAF personnel and planes based at RAF Laarbruch were active in both the Bosnian War and the First Gulf War. Eventually, though, the site was rundown, and the RAF regiments moved back to the UK. The site was vacated by the RAF completely on the 30th November, 1999.

After the RAF moved out, the company Flughafen Niederrhein GmbH purchased the runway, with plans to make use of the existing infrastructure and create a commercial airport, offering low budget flights to European destinations. This plan was realised, and Weeze airport opened in 2003, named after the nearby village of Weeze. Originally, the plan was to name the airport Düsseldorf-Weeze, but because the airport is over 83 kilometres from Düsseldorf, the operators were not legally allowed to. Still, the airport seems to do reasonably well, which is staggering given its isolation and lack of connectivity to any major urban area.

In 2007, the former St Peter's Church and old Astra cinema building were converted, forming the Royal Air Force Museum Laarbruch Weeze, the only RAF museum on German soil. The rest of the site that was RAF Laarbruch still remains abandoned, including the old living quarters, the school and shops, the nuclear shelter and other office buildings. Weeze airport looks to have a bright future, but the old RAF infrastructure will probably be demolished in the not too distant future.

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