Make Way for the BLUEHOUSE

Demolition of the old aquarium on Helgoland has begun
[18. April 2023] 

The demolition now underway on Helgoland will make room for construction of the BLUEHOUSE, which will offer a uniquely interactive permanent exhibition on marine research. Its 600 square metres of exhibition space will be home to various exhibits designed to promote learning and discovery.

The bulldozer pulls up beside the old aquarium and starts tearing it down. The first spots where the ground has been excavated can be seen. The entire area is marked off with construction fencing. The staff of the Biological Institute Helgoland (BAH), a site belonging to the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI), are full of anticipation. “For the past twelve years, we’ve been working with the AWI, the Municipality of Helgoland, local citizens, the BLUEHOUSE association, and policymakers in Schleswig-Holstein and at the federal level to make this important project a reality,” says Prof Karen Wiltshire, Director of the BAH. “We’re delighted that the wheels are now rolling, and we’re eternally grateful for the support we’ve received from policymakers. Good things come to those who wait.”

From the outside, the new BLUEHOUSE won’t look that different from its predecessor. Together with the adjacent research building, it will form an architectural ensemble and a protected landmark. But inside, it’s a different story: there will be a modern exhibition space with e.g. an 80,000-litre aquarium and a host of interactive elements. In addition, the BLUEHOUSE will be the new home for the AWI student laboratory OPENSEA. The 20-million-euro project will be financed by the federal government (Federal Ministry of Education and Research), the State of Schleswig-Holstein, and the Municipality of Helgoland.

For decades, the aquarium was an attraction and fixture for the island’s residents and tourists alike. Built in the late 1950s in classic Bauhaus style, it showcased the underwater world surrounding Helgoland until 2014. After falling into disrepair, the old aquarium eventually had to be shut down.

The new BLUEHOUSE will rekindle this tradition. Preserving the Bauhaus design language, it will combine aquariums, multimedia installations and exhibits to highlight the underwater world, Helgoland’s rocky tidal flats, and marine research, which has been pursued in the North Sea for more than a century.

“I hope the new BLUEHOUSE, just like the old aquarium, will be a gathering place for all of the island’s residents and guests,” says Dr Eva-Maria Brodte, Director of the BLUEHOUSE HELGOLAND. “Here, our goal is to share knowledge both hands-on and virtually. We want visitors to experience the fascinating world of the ocean up close and personal, and to come in direct contact with research. For example, they’ll have the chance to learn more about the island’s flora and fauna, and about how climate change is affecting them.”

Tearing down such a large building and constructing a new one 60 kilometres from the coast, with limited space, narrow streets and right beside hotels and restaurants poses a number of logistical and technical challenges. Just like an iceberg, there is far more of the old building below ground than can be seen from the street. The systems used to keep the aquarium up and running are located in two basement levels deep in the bedrock. Accordingly, the demolition work now begun will involve two stages: one above ground and one underground. All the equipment has to be brought to the island in a timely manner – not to mention the fact that every effort is being made to disturb residents and tourists as little as possible.

Once the demolition is complete, construction of the new building will commence. The new BLUEHOUSE will then be operated by the Alfred Wegener Institute, with support from the Municipality of Helgoland – tentatively from 2025.


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The Institute

The Alfred Wegener Institute pursues research in the polar regions and the oceans of mid and high latitudes. As one of the 18 centres of the Helmholtz Association it coordinates polar research in Germany and provides ships like the research icebreaker Polarstern and stations for the international scientific community.