Berlin's historical Tempelhof Airport closes
Berlin's historical Tempelhof Airport closes
To the dismay of those it saved, the much beloved Tempelhof Airport makes way for other, yet undefined uses.
Berlin -- Famed for its role in the historic Allied airlift, Berlin's Tempelhof Airport will be confined to history at midnight on Thursday after a lengthy battle to save it failed.
The sky above the capital has been resounding to the drone of planes as people take advantage of "Goodbye Tempelhof" -- sightseeing flights in original Douglas DC3 planes used in the 1948-49 Airlift. Dozens of recreational pilots from around Germany have been flying to Tempelhof to experience it "just one more time."
"For me, Tempelhof is the world's greatest airport. I'll never forget it," said a 65-year-old pilot from southern Germany as he clambered from his cockpit. "Coming in to land at Tempelhof from above the houses and tree tops has always excited me. In the airlift days, pilots, aware that its runways were short, would indulge in much black humor about the cemetery at the far end of the airfield."
The final domestic scheduled flight is due to leave at 9.50 pm on Oct. 30, when a plane departs for Mannheim with passengers. Some 800 guests will see them off at a "farewell" gala organized by the holding company responsible for Tempelhof and the city's two other airports, Tegel and Schoenefeld.
At a minute before midnight a Douglas DC 3 and a Lufthansa Berlin Foundation JU 52 will soar into the air from Tempelhof -- the last planes to fly from the condemned airport. The last pilots to fly from Tempelhof will be Georg Kohne, Steffen Wardin
A petition to save the centrally located airport failed recently. Shutting it down shocks not only elderly West Berliners whose lives were rescued by the airlift 60 years ago but also international investors eager to transform it into an international health and congress center, with requisite airport facilities for patients.
However, Berlin's governing Mayor Klaus Wowereit is adamant about its closure. Born and raised in the city's Tempelhof district, he says the airport has run up heavy losses over the years and should now be used for other purposes. He warns that keeping the airport open could jeopardize Berlin's plans for a major new airport on the Schoenefeld site. He proposes that a national landscape gardening exhibition be created at Tempelhof.
Wowereit's attitude dismayed American investors Fred Langhammer and Ronald S. Lauder, who have offered to invest 350 million euros (437 million dollars) into a Tempelhof airport health and congress center project. Multi-millionaire New York businessman Lauder is astonished by Wowereit's decisions, saying the airport's closure "makes no economic sense."
"What will Berlin's governing mayor get out of doing such a thing?” asks Lauder. "Nothing!"
Lauder, in recent interviews, has said his project would provide regular jobs for 2,000 to 3,000 people. According to Lauder, Berlin will instead be left with 12 million euros in annual costs for maintenance of airport buildings and surrounding grounds. "And those costs are going to increase." Lauder believes the current global financial crisis is a disaster for cities like Berlin.
"I have seen what has happened in New York," he said. "Fewer tourists are arriving there and the restaurants are empty. Berlin, which has hardly any industry, will be hurt five times more by the crisis."
Tempelhof's proudest moment came when it became the main airlift avenue through which the encircled city of West Berlin gained food and fuel supplies by US, British and French aircrafts after the Russians sealed its rail, road and water routes.
Never before or since has the world seen an airlift operation on such a scale. The skies above Berlin teemed with American C-54 Skymasters, C-47 transporters, British Dakotas, Hastings and Sunderland flying boats.
Later bulky C-47 Globemasters arrived: adding their 17-ton payload capacity to the famous airlift.
For 320 dramatic days, the Russians had maintained their Berlin blockade before finally giving up on May 12, 1949. The airlift had seen a total of 2,343,301 tons of supplies flown in to Berlin in 277,264 flights amounting to a ton of food for each of West Berlin's 2.2 million residents.
The airport's convulsive history began in 1922 when it opened on the Tempelhof parade grounds as just two hangars, a shop and administrative space. Then, within the successive five years five more hangars, a radio installation and a 10,000 square meter apron were added.
By 1936, with the Nazis in power, bigger plans for a ‘modern’ Tempelhof Airport that housed the Air Ministry; commercial and foreign airlines; freight and passenger facilities were conceived.
These called for a concrete apron of 1.2 million square meters. The administrative buildings were extended for nearly one kilometer, with a ghoulish Nazi eagle statue crowning the airport roof.
Builders dug five stories below street level but construction came to a halt due to a scarcity of building materials in the war-ridden Berlin.
Later, when US troops moved into Tempelhof, they promptly set about redesigning the unattractive Nazi bronze eagle atop the airport roof.
They severed it from its ugly body and wings and shaved the eagle's head in order to resemble an American ‘bald eagle,’ the US Air Force's proud emblem. Today, the ‘American’ eagle stands on a plinth in front of the airport as a reminder of German-American reconciliation and friendship.