Berlin’s centrally located Tempelhof Airport began operations in 1923. It has a place in aviation history as the birthplace of Germany’s national airline, Lufthansa, and the colossal, curved terminal and hangar complex erected during the Nazi era was then the largest building in the world. In the late 1940s the airport was West Berlin’s lifeline, the destination for British and American freight planes after the Soviets blockaded road access to the city.
But if you see a plane land at Tempelhof these days, it’s a model being steered by remote control. Closing down the outdated facility was one of the conditions for constructing the new BBI Airport (scheduled to open in 2012) and Tempelhof’s last last call was two and a half years back. Since then the open space – larger than Central Park – has been colonised by joggers, cyclists, barbecuers, kite-flyers, strollers, dog-walkers and soccer players. Otherwise serious-minded adults have been known to run along the decommissioned runways with their arms outstretched making vrrrrrrmmmm noises.
However these are all temporary solutions and the long-term fate of a retired airport is the kind of urban planning noodle-scratcher which has flummoxed bigger cities than Berlin. Space-starved Hong Kong still hasn’t repurposed the old Kai Tak Airport, 13 years after it ceased operations, while New York City’s Flushing Airport has been a wasteland since closing in 1984. The latest plans for Tempelhof see a steep, 60-meter high mountain in the middle of a landscaped park with sport fields at the perimeter, an artificial lake, a pavilion, all in place before a large-scale garden expo in 2017.
But in the meantime: vrrrrrrmmmm!