Saturday, 8 November 2008

Flughafen Tempelhof

Following on from my earlier post about Cold War design, last week saw the demise of one of the true survivors of the Cold War.

Flughafen Tempelhof, which served as Berlin's airport for many years and sustained West Berlin during the Soviet blockade of the city, closed all operations on October 30, 2008.

Tempelhof was the world's oldest continuously-operated airport. The site was used as an airfield in the early days of aviation, even before the First World War. It was designated as an airport in 1923, and the German national airline Lufthansa was founded there in 1926.

The original terminal building was demolished as part of Albert Speer's plan for the rebuilding of Berlin. Construction began on the new terminal in 1936, a huge curved building clad in limestone. Aircraft can taxi up close to the terminal, under a wide canopy that protects passengers from the elements.

Inside, the building is in keeping with the design orthodoxy of the Nazi period, but its simple lines and restrained classicism have aged remarkably well.

Some of the original ornamentation from the building has been preserved - here, a giant sculpture of an eagle.

During the Battle of Berlin, Tempelhof's German commander refused to obey orders to dynamite the building. The airport was seized by the Red Army, which turned it over to the US military when the city was divided into four occupation zones.

In June 1948, the Russians blockaded the western-controlled area of Berlin. Faced with the alternative of abandoning the city to the Soviet bloc, the western powers achieved an amazing feat. For the next 11 months, US and British forces supplied the 2.5 million inhabitants of West Berlin with all the necessities of life by airlifting everything into Tempelhof.

US Air Force C-47 aircraft unloading supplies at Tempelhof:

Throughout the Cold War, Tempelhof remained an important air link to West Berlin for both commercial and military flights. Even after many commercial flights moved out to Tegel airport in the 1970s, Berliners retained tremendous affection for the airport that saved West Berlin during the Airlift.

More recently, Tempelhof became popular with business travellers on short-haul flights, given its proximity to the city centre. The airport is practically within walking distance of central Berlin - only a few stops on the subway or a 10 minute cab ride away.

In the late 1990s, the city, state and federal authorities decided to consolidate all flights to Berlin at a single airport, Schoenefeld, and to close Tempelhof and Tegel. Many Berliners objected, and there were lengthy political and legal maneuvers to keep Tempelhof open. The last-ditch attempt was a city-wide referendum, which attracted over a 60% vote to keep the airport open. Unfortunately, procedural rules required not only a majority of the ballots cast, but also that these votes had to represent more than 25% of all eligible voters in the city - a level that they failed to attain.

Tempelhof closed on October 30 after a huge farewell party. Just before midnight, two historic planes took off, a Junkers Ju 52 and an Airlift-era Douglas DC-3. At midnight, the runway lights were turned off for the last time.

Auf Wiedersehen Tempelhof.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am old enough and soft enought to shed tears at the closing of this honorable institution. Honor, the thing you do when no one is watching seems in short supply in recent years. Thank you for the memory. Ann