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Berlin: die Offene Stadt / the Open City, part one

The Freedom To Do Whatever You Want At Tempelhof Airport

Tempelhof, the Berlin airport with an extraordinary past; the former sheep pasture was a test runway for Orville Wright, the site of Lufthansa’s first flight, and a flashpoint for Cold War relations. In 2010, the airfield returned to being a sheep pasture (well almost), with its 750 acres designated as Tempelhofer Freiheit, “Tempelhofer Freedom,” a new and unorthodox city park right in the center of the Berlin.

The airport was originally part of the plans for Germania, Hitler’s vision to recast Berlin as the “World Capital” during the Third Reich. When it was completed in the mid-1930s, it was the largest building on earth, at a whopping 3.2 million SF. Photos here

During the Cold War it was the site of Operation Vittles, also known as the Berlin Airlift. All transportation routes to the Western controlled parts of the city were blocked by the the Soviet authorities and the Allies were forced to fly in a constant steam of food and provisions for the West Berliners. During this time, US and British pilots flew cargo into Tempelhof around the clock, averaging 1,500 flights a day. “Candy Bombers” flew over West Berlin dropping care packages of food and coal. These provisions were essential for preventing a Soviet takeover of the western half of the city.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Tempelhof continued operation despite being one of three airports in the city. As one of the few airports in the world located directly in the city center, noise pollution from planes was a major nuisance for the adjacent neighborhoods. The airfield was also a huge barrier dividing the districts of Kreuzberg, Schöneberg, Neukölln, and Tempelhof from each other. The airport was in decline by the end of the 1990s, with just a few European flights leaving per day. I once had the pleasure of flying from Berlin to Brussels via Tempelhof Airport. The experience was memorable; entering the enormous, stark marble hall, and boarding the plane under the huge steel canopy via runway stairs was more like a scene from an old movie than the typical banal experience afforded by most contemporary airports today.

After much political debate and a failed referendum, Tempelhof Airport was closed in 2008. Since that time, there has been a competition to decide the future of the airfield, with GROSS.MAX. and Sutherland Hussey Architects submitting the winning entry for the park. As we well know, it takes ages for any city to implement such large scale plans…did someone say Viaduct? While this is all being decided, the city has given over several parcels of the land for use by what they are calling “Pioneers.” Berlin’s citizens are able to pioneer their own city by being given the opportunity to rent large areas of land very cheaply: just 1 Euro per 10 SF per year! Some current Pioneer Projects include:

basis.wissen.schafft, an interdisciplinary research project studying the relationship between science and society.
Dingadu, a unicycle school
MD Mix05, a project that uses learning games to teach German grammar.
Steckdose Kreuzberg, a SEGWAY rental agency.
Lernort Natur, a nature education center for children.
Stadtacker/ StattAcker, a large urban vegetable garden.

In addition to the Pioneer Projects, there is also a beer garden, a mini-golf course, grill areas, and miles of paved runways for riding bikes, skating, and wind surfing.

It’s an amazing place, Tempelhof. When visiting, one has the impression of being in the countryside of Brandenburg, and yet one sees the city at the periphery, distant but audible. As with so many places in the Berlin, it is on the edge of becoming something. I prefer it as the sheep pasture, but such a large unbuilt area in the center of a growing metropolis will not stay undeveloped forever. You should see it now, because it might not last for long.

Written by Elizabeth Golden, Senior Lecturer.









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