ten Nazi architecture
|Fascist Stripped Classical (German)|
|Steel frames, stone cladding.|
|In the late 1940s, West Berlin children
watched at Tempelhof as American planes brought supplies to the blockaded
|Map of the main building complex with apron|
Tempelhof International Airport (IATA: THF, ICAO: EDDI) a.k.a. Berlin
Tempelhof (German: Flughafen Tempelhof) is an airport in Berlin,
Germany, situated in the south-central borough of Tempelhof-Schöneberg.
This airport is commonly known as Tempelhof as well.
Designated by the ministry of transport on October 8, 1923, Tempelhof became the world's first airport with an underground railway station in 1927, now called 'Platz der Luftbrücke' after the Berlin Airlift. While occasionally cited as the world's oldest still-operating commercial airport, Kingsford Smith International Airport in Sydney, Australia predates it by three years.
Tempelhof was one of Europe's three iconic pre-war airports - the others being London's old Croydon Airport and Paris' Le Bourget. One of the airport's most distinguishing features is its large, canopy-style roof that was able to accommodate most contemporary airliners during its heyday in the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s, thereby saving passengers from the elements. The main building of the Tempelhof Airport is the 18th largest building on earth. Tempelhof used to have the world's smallest duty-free shop. 
Tempelhof Airport is due to close on October 31, 2008. The airport has long been uneconomical, and its closure is a necessary condition for the opening of new Berlin-Brandenburg International Airport
Tempelhof is often called the "City Airport". Tempelhof mostly has commuter flights to other parts of Germany and neighboring countries, but has in the past received long-haul, wide-bodied airliners, such as the Boeing 747(picture) and the Lockheed C5A "Galaxy".
Tempelhof Airport has two parallel runways. Runway 9L/27R has a length of 2,094 metres (6,870 feet) and runway 9R/27L has a length of 1,840 m (6,037 ft). Both runways are paved with asphalt. The taxiway is in the shape of a circle around these two runways, with a single terminal on the north side of the airport.
In 2007, it served fewer than 350,000 passengers; however, largely due to the costs and insufficient profitable use of the considerable real-estate, the airport is not profitable. The airport is scheduled for closure at the end of October 2008, and other possible uses for it are being discussed. The airport buildings will be preserved. A non-binding referendum on the level of the Land (state of) Berlin was held on April 27th 2008 against the close-down (see below) but failed due to low turnout.
The site of the airport was originally Knights Templar land in medieval Berlin, and from this beginning came the name Tempelhof. Later, the site was used as a parade field by Prussian forces, and by unified German forces from 1720 to the start of World War I. In 1909, Frenchman Armand Zipfel made the first flight demonstration in Tempelhof, followed by Orville Wright later that same year.  Tempelhof was first officially designated as an airport on 8 October 1923. Lufthansa was founded in Tempelhof on 6 January 1926.
The old terminal, originally constructed in 1927, received politicians and celebrities from around the world during the 1930s. As part of Albert Speer's plan for the reconstruction of Berlin during the Nazi era, Prof. Ernst Sagebiel was ordered to replace the old terminal with a new terminal building in 1934.
The airport halls and the neighboring buildings, intended to become the gateway to Europe and a symbol of Hitler's "world capital" Germania, are still known as the largest built entities worldwide, and have been described by British architect Sir Norman Foster as "the mother of all airports". With its façades of shell limestone, the terminal building, built between 1936 and 1941, forms a massive 1.2-kilometre long quadrant yet has a charmingly intimate feel; planes can taxi right up to the building and unload, sheltered from the weather by its enormous overhanging canopy. Passengers walk through customs controls and find themselves in a dazzlingly simple and luminous reception hall. Tempelhof is served conveniently by the U6 U-Bahn line along Mehringdamm and up Friedrichstraße (Platz der Luftbrücke station).
Zentralflughafen Tempelhof-Berlin had an advantage of central location just minutes from the heart of Berlin and quickly became one of the world's busiest airports. Tempelhof saw its greatest pre-war days during 1938-1939 when more than 52 foreign and 40 domestic aircraft arrived and departed daily.
The air terminal was designed as headquarters for Deutsche Lufthansa, the German national airline. As a forerunner of today's modern airports, the building was designed with many unique features including giant arc-shaped hangars for aircraft parking. Although under construction for more than ten years, it was never finished because of World War II.
The building complex was designed to resemble an eagle in flight with semicircular hangars forming the bird's spread wings. A mile long hangar roof was to have been laid in tiers to form a stadium for spectators at air and ground demonstrations
World War II
Weserwerke started war production in a new building for assembling Junkers Ju 87 "Stuka" dive bombers and later Focke-Wulf Fw 190 fighter planes in Tempelhof's underground tunnels. Aircraft engines were trucked to Tempelhof and joined to finished airframes. Germany did not use Tempelhof as a military airfield during World War II, except for occasional emergency landings by fighter aircraft.
Soviet forces took Tempelhof in the Battle of Berlin on 24 April 1945 in the closing days of the war in Europe following a fierce battle with Luftwaffe troops. Tempelhof's German commander, Colonel Rudolf Boettger, refused to carry out orders to blow up the base, choosing instead to kill himself.
In accordance with the Yalta agreements, Zentralflughafen Tempelhof-Berlin was turned over to the United States Army 2nd Armored Division on 2 July 1945 by the Soviet Union as part of the American occupation zone of Berlin. This agreement was later formalized by the August 1945 Potsdam Agreement, which formally divided Berlin into four occupation zones.
The 852nd Engineer Aviation Battalion arrived at Tempelhof (Code Number R-95) on 10 July 1945 and made the original repairs.
Berlin Airlift Monument in Berlin-Tempelhof, displaying the names of the 39 British and 31 American pilots who lost their lives during the operation, and symbolising the three air corridors.
On 20 June 1948 Soviet authorities, claiming technical difficulties, halted all traffic by land and by water into or out of the western-controlled section of Berlin. The only remaining access routes into the city were three 25-mile-wide air corridors across the Soviet-occupied zone of Germany. Faced with the choice of abandoning the city or attempting to supply its inhabitants with the necessities of life by air, the Western Powers chose the latter course and for the next eleven months sustained the city's two-and-a-half million residents in one of the greatest feats in aviation history.
Operation Vittles, as the airlift was unofficially named, began on 26 June when USAF Douglas C-47 "Skytrains" carried 80 tons of food into Tempelhof, far less than the estimated 4,500 tons of food, coal and other essential supplies needed daily to maintain a minimum level of existence. But this force was soon augmented by United States Navy and Royal Air Force cargo aircraft, as well as British European Airways (BEA) and some of Britain's fledgling wholly privately owned, Independent airlines. The latter included the late Sir Freddie Laker's Air Charter, Eagle Aviation and Skyways. On 15 October 1948, to promote increased safety and cooperation between the separate US and British airlift efforts, the Allies created a unified command -- the Combined Airlift Task Force under Maj. Gen. William H. Tunner, USAF, was established at Tempelhof. To facilitate the command and control, as well as the unloading of aircraft, the USAF 53rd Troop Carrier Squadron was temporarily assigned to Tempelhof.
In addition to the airlift operations, American engineers constructed a new 6,000-ft runway at Tempelhof between July and September 1948 and another between September and October 1948 to accommodate the expanding requirements of the airlift. The last airlift transport touched down at Tempelhof on 30 September 1949.
As the Cold War intensified in the late 1950s and 1960s, access problems to West Berlin, both by land and air, continued to cause tension. USAF aircraft were harassed as they flew in and out of the city. Throughout the Cold War years, Tempelhof was the main terminal for American military transport aircraft accessing West Berlin.
With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany, the presence of American forces in Berlin ended. The USAF 7350th Air Base Group at Tempelhof was deactivated in June 1993. In July 1994, with President Clinton in attendance, the British, French, and American air and land forces in Berlin were deactivated in a ceremony on the Four Ring Parade field at Tempelhof in accordance with the Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany. The Western Allies returned a united city of Berlin to the unified German government.
The U.S. Army closed its Berlin Army Aviation Detachment at TCA in August 1994, ending a 49-year American military presence in Berlin.
Postwar Commercial Use
American Overseas Airlines (AOA), at the time the overseas division of American Airlines, inaugurated the first commercial air link serving Tempelhof after the war with a flight from New York via Frankfurt on 18 May 1946.
In 1950 Pan Am acquired AOA from American Airlines and established a presence at Tempelhof. In addition to continuing AOA's Berlin-Frankfurt-New York service, Pan Am commenced regular, year-round scheduled services to most major West German cities from Tempelhof with Douglas DC-4s as these were widely available at the time due to the large number of war-surplus C-54 "Skymasters" on the second-hand aircraft market.
1950 was also the year BEA and Air France joined Pan Am at Tempelhof. The former transferred its operations from Gatow and the latter resumed operations to Tempelhof following their cessation during the war years. This was furthermore the year Allied restrictions making commercial airline services from/to West Berlin accessible to Allied military personnel and their dependants only were lifted. This decision gave a major boost to West Berlin's fledgeling post-war scheduled air services, all of which were concentrated at Tempelhof at that time.
From 1951 onwards, several of the new, wholly privately owned Independent UK airlines and US supplemental carriers commenced regular air services to Tempelhof from the UK, the US and West Germany. These airlines initially carried members of the UK and US armed forces stationed in Berlin and their dependants as well as essential raw materials, finished goods manufactured in West Berlin and refugees from East Germany and Eastern Europe, who were still able to freely enter the city prior to the construction of the infamous Berlin Wall, on their flights. This operation was also known as the second, Little Berlin Airlift. One of these airlines, UK Independent Dan-Air Services (operating as Dan-Air London), would subsequently play an important role in developing commercial air services from Tegel for a quarter century.
During the early to mid-1950s BEA leased in aircraft that were bigger than its Tempelhof-based fleet of "Pionair" and "Viking" piston-engined airliners from other operators to boost capacity, following a steady increase in the airline's passenger loads.
In 1958 BEA began replacing its aging "Pionairs" and "Vikings" with brand-new, state-of-the-art Vickers "Viscount" 800 series turboprop aircraft. These aircraft's greater range and higher cruising speed enabled BEA to inaugurate a non-stop London Heathrow - Berlin Tempelhof service on November 1, 1965. For many years this was the only non-stop international scheduled air service from Tempelhof.
On January 2, 1960 Air France, which had served Düsseldorf, Hamburg, Frankfurt, Munich and its main base at Paris Orly during the previous decade with DC-4, Sud-Est "Languedoc" and Lockheed "Constellation" piston-engined equipment, shifted its entire Berlin operation to Tegel because Tempelhof's runways were too short to permit the introduction of the Sud-Aviation "Caravelle", the French flag carrier's new short-haul jet, with a viable payload.
1960 was also the year Pan Am re-equipped its Tempelhof-based fleet with larger, pressurised Douglas DC-6B piston-engined airliners. Although the DC-6B was a less advanced aircraft than either the "Viscount" or the "Caravelle", it was more economical. By the early 1960s, Pan Am had a fleet of 15 DC-6Bs stationed at its Tempelhof base, which were configured in a higher-density seating arrangement than competing airlines' aircraft. This gave it the biggest aircraft fleet among the three main scheduled operators flying from West Berlin. It furthermore enabled it to compensate for the DC-6's lack of sophistication with higher frequencies than its competitors, thereby attaining a higher market share (60%) and capturing a greater share of the lucrative business travel market than its rivals. During that period, Pan Am moreover achieved an industry-leading ultra short-haul load factor of 70% on its eight scheduled internal routes from Berlin, making the airline's Berlin routes the most profitable in its worldwide scheduled network.
Following the completion of the Berlin Wall on August 13, 1961, the West German government introduced a route-specific subsidy of up to 20% for all internal German scheduled air services from and to West Berlin to help the airlines maintain an economically viable operation on these lifeline routes.
By the early 1960s, a number of UK Independents and US supplementals began operating regular charter flights from Tempelhof. These carried both inbound tourists from the US, the UK and other countries as well as local outbound tourists to the emerging holiday resorts in the Mediterranean. London Gatwick-based UK Independent Lloyd International became the first charter airline to permanently station some of its aircraft at Tempelhof, when it based two Bristol "Britannia" turboprops at the airport from the beginning of the 1966 summer season. These aircraft were operating a series of inclusive tour flights under contract to Berliner Flug Ring, a newly established West Berlin package tour operator.
In January 1966 Pan Am became the first airline to commence regular, year-round jet operations from Tempelhof with the first examples of a brand-new fleet of Boeing 727 100 series, one of the first "short-field" performance jet aircraft. These aircraft were configured in a single class featuring 128 economy seats. Pan Am's move put BEA at a considerable competitive disadvantage, especially on the busy Berlin-Frankfurt route where the former out-competed the latter with both modern jet planes as well as a higher flight frequency. BEA responded by supplementing its Tempelhof-based "Viscount" fleet with a pair of De Havilland "Comet" 4B series jetliners. Although these aircraft could operate from Tempelhof's short runways without payload restrictions - unlike the 4/4C series versions of that aircraft type, they were not suited to the airline's ultra short-haul operation from Berlin (average stage length: 230 miles) given the high fuel consumption of the "Comet", especially when operating at the mandatory 10,000 feet altitude inside the Allied air corridors. This measure was therefore only a stopgap until BEA's BAC One-Eleven 500s arrived in Berlin. BEA furthermore responded to Pan Am's competitive threat by re-configuring its Berlin-based "Viscounts" with a lower-density seating arrangement, as a result of which these aircraft featured only 52 instead of 68 seats. Henceforth, the airline marketed these services as Super Silver Star.
In 1968 BEA began replacing its Berlin-based "Viscounts" with the new One-Eleven 500s, which it called the Super One-Eleven. These aircraft featured a 99-seat, single class configuration.
1968 was also the year all non-scheduled services, i.e. primarily the rapidly growing number of inclusive tour charter flights, were concentrated at Tegel to alleviate increasing congestion at Tempelhof and to make better use of Tegel, which was underutilised at the time.
Commercial air traffic from/to Berlin Tempelhof peaked in 1971 at just below five-and-a-half million passengers (out of a total of 6.12m passengers for all West Berlin airports during that year). Pan Am accounted for the bulk of this traffic with more than 3.3m passengers, followed by BEA with over 2.1m passengers. 1971 was also the year BEA's last "Viscount" departed Berlin
East Germany's relaxation of border controls affecting all surface transport modes between West Berlin and West Germany across its territory from 1972 onwards resulted in a decline of scheduled internal German air traffic from/to West Berlin. This was further compounded by the recession in the wake of the 1973 oil crisis. The resulting fare increases that were intended to recover the airlines' higher operating costs caused by steeply rising jet fuel prices led to a further drop in demand. This in turn resulted in a major contraction of Pan Am's and BEA's/British Airways's internal German operations, necessitating a reduction in both airlines' Berlin-based fleets (from 14 to eleven aircraft in Pan Am's case, and from nine to seven aircraft in BA's case) and turning these once profitable routes into loss-makers by the mid-1970s.
On 1 September 1975 Pan Am and British Airways moved their entire Berlin operation to the newly built terminal at Tegel Airport. Following Pan Am's and BA's move to Tegel, Tempelhof was exclusively used by the US military until 1985.
The end of the Cold War and German Reunification opened Tempelhof for non-allied air traffic on 3 October 1990. US President Bill Clinton christened a new Boeing C17A "Globemaster III" transport plane (serial number 96-0006) as the Spirit of Berlin at Tempelhof on 12 May 1998, to commemorate the 49th anniversary of the end of the Berlin Blockade.(May 12, 1949)
Today commercial use is mostly in the form of small commuter aircraft flying regionally. Plans are in place to shut down Tempelhof and Tegel, and make Schönefeld the sole commercial airport for Berlin.
Closing down air traffic and the referendum against it
In 1996, the former mayor of Berlin Eberhard Diepgen, Brandenburg’s governor Stolpe and the federal transportation minister Wissmann established the so-called “Consensus resolution”. The entire planning aimed at concentrating the national and international air traffic in Berlin and Brandenburg onto one airport: Berlin-Schönefeld International Airport. To ensure investment protection as well as to fend off opposition to Schöenefeld International's expansion it was mandated that first Tempelhof and then Tegel Airports must be closed. On December 4th 2007, the Federal Administrative Court of Germany "Bundesverwaltungsgericht" made the final decision as court of last instance for closing Tempelhof Airport.
An initiative for a nonbinding referendum on the level of the Land (state of) Berlin against the close-down was held and failed, after the initial number of signatures required were collected. According to the constitution of the state of Berlin, the number of supportive signatures that were required to be collected within four months in order to compel a referendum amounts to 7% of the population of Berlin entitled to vote, or 169,784. The four months period for the collection of signatures at the Berlin district townhalls ended on 14 February 2008. 203,408 signatures were lodged. The referendum was held on 27 April 2008. All eligible voters received an information brochure along with their notification. A majority of the votes was necessary to support the referendum, but this had to be at least one quarter of all eligible Berlin voters.
The initiative for keeping Tempelhof open was supported by the ICAT Interessengemeinschaft City-Airport Tempelhof  along with a couple opposition parties in the Berlin city parliament: the Christian Democratic Union and the Free Democratic Party citing primarily the need for an inner-city airport for business and private flyers as well as nostalgic reasons. Representatives from the ICAT suggested keeping the airport open just until Schönefeld Airport is completed in about 2012. The Berlin government insisted on the closure of the airport for legal, long-term economic, and environmental reasons in particular to ensure the expansion of Schönefeld International. Environmental groups and the Green party supported them in this. Plans for the future would include for example an airlift museum in the old terminal building, commercial space for innovative businesses, new housing and industrial areas, sports facilities, and parks. Legally the decision for the closure at the end of October 2008 was irrevocable and the referendum was nonbinding. A subsequent reopening would have faced high legal barriers. However, some legal experts said there may be means to circumvent this.
The referendum of April 27 2008 failed. Although 60.2 % of the votes cast were for the initiative to keep the airport open, this was by only 21.7 % of the eligible voters; 25 % had been required. Support had been highest in western districts of Berlin (up to 80 %), but opposition (i.e. 30 % approval) and disinterest was prevalent in eastern districts. Voter turnout of 36 % was low. Air traffic at Tempelhof Airport will thus cease for good on November 1st 2008 and the expansion of Schönefeld Airport can continue unhindered.
Accidents and incidents
On 29 April 1952 an Air France Douglas C-54A (registration F-BELI) operating a scheduled service from Frankfurt Rhein-Main Airport to Berlin Tempelhof came under sustained attack from two Soviet MiG 15 fighters while passing through one of the Allied air corridors over East Germany. Although the attack had severely damaged the plane, necessitating the shutdown of engines number three and four, the pilot in command of the aircraft managed to carry out a safe emergency landing at Tempelhof Airport. A subsequent inspection of the aircraft's damage at Tempelhof revealed that it had been hit by 89 shots fired from the Soviet MiGs during the preceding air attack. There were no fatalities among the 17 occupants (six crew, eleven passengers) despite the severity of the attack. The Soviet military authorities defended this attack on an unarmed civilian aircraft by claiming the Air France plane was outside the air corridor at the time of attack.
^ Airports International June 1975 (industry magazine)
^ a b c d e f g h i j k BEA in Berlin, Air Transport, Flight International, 10 August 1972, pp. 180/1
^ a b c d e Berlin Airport Company - Airline Portrait - Pan Am, January 1975 Monthly Timetable Booklet for Berlin Tempelhof and Berlin Tegel Airports, Berlin Airport Company, West Berlin, 1975
^ a b c d e f g Berlin Airport Company - Airline Portrait - British Airways, February 1975 Monthly Timetable Booklet for Berlin Tempelhof and Berlin Tegel Airports, Berlin Airport Company, West Berlin, 1975
^ a b c Berlin Airport Company - Airline Portrait - Air France, March 1975 Monthly Timetable Booklet for Berlin Tempelhof and Berlin Tegel Airports, Berlin Airport Company, West Berlin, 1975
^ The Spirit of Dan-Air, Simons, G.M., GMS Enterprises, Peterborough, 1993, p. 11
^ The Spirit of Dan-Air, Simons, G.M., GMS Enterprises, Peterborough, 1993, pp. 9-11
^ a b c d battle The battle for Berlin, Flight International, 23 April 1988, pp. 19-21
^ Hot route in the Cold War, Friday, Jul. 03, 1964
^ a b Berlin Airport Company, April 1968 Monthly Timetable Booklet for Berlin Tempelhof and Berlin Tegel Airports, Berlin Airport Company, West Berlin, 1968
^ Berlin Airport Company, November 1971 Monthly Timetable Booklet for Berlin Tempelhof and Berlin Tegel Airports, Berlin Airport Company, West Berlin, 1971
^ Pan Am's Internal German Services (IGS) division, Archives, flightglobal.com, 1973
^ Berlin's commuter market grows, Flight International, 2 April 1988, pp. 6, 8
^ Official public information brochure of the pros and cons of the referendum (German).
^ Grünes Licht für Schließung des Flughafens Berlin-Tempelhof. Press release of the Federal Administrative Court of Germany, 4. Dec. 2007 (available at www.bundesverwaltungsgericht.de)
^ Official public announcement of the call for support (German)
^ Official page of the State of Berlin: see Article 63 (1), second sentence of the Berlin constitution (German); with regard to the figures, see the official referendum schedule, at the end of the page(German).
^ Official referendum schedule, at A. 6 (German).
^ Official information on the number of signatures lodged.
^ Official referendum schedule, at B. 2 (German).
^ Official public information brochure of the pros and cons of the referendum (German)
^ Official press release on the referendum (German)
^ ICAT Interessengemeinschaft City-Airport Tempelhof
^ Official public information brochure of the pros and cons of the referendum (German).
^ Official public information brochure of the pros and cons of the referendum (German).
^ BBI Press release: Berlin Airports welcome BBI decision by the Federal Constitutional Court on BBI
^ Official results of the referendum published by the municipal election supervisor
Berlin Airport Company (Berliner Flughafen Gesellschaft [BFG]) - Monthly Timetable Booklet for Berlin Tempelhof and Berlin Tegel Airports, several issues (German language edition only), 1965-1975. Berlin Airport Company.
"Flight International" . Reed Business Information. ISSN 0015-3710. (various backdated issues relating to commercial air transport at Berlin Tempelhof during the Allied period from 1950 until 1990)
Simons, Graham M. (1993). The Spirit of Dan-Air. GMS Enterprises. ISBN 1-8703-8420-2.
BERLIN — Sometimes you can read a city though a cultural landmark.
Tempelhof Airport is Berlin’s open book.
The New York Times Associated Press By MICHAEL KIMMELMAN Published: May 20, 2008
Berlin plans to move all flights to Schönefeld, south of town.
On the eve of the 60th anniversary of the historic, American-led airlift to supply the besieged capital, the mayor is going ahead with plans to close the airport by year’s end. How sad. A last-minute campaign by his political opponents to save it through a citywide referendum late last month won a majority, but not enough Berliners turned out to make the vote official.
Now, talk about twists of fate, a big international air show opening here in a few days will celebrate the airlift’s anniversary — but not at Tempelhof. It will take place at Schönefeld airport, in the former East Berlin, whose pending expansion is the immediate cause of Tempelhof’s demise.
Once the site of a Prussian parade ground, where Orville Wright showed off his flying machines, “the mother of all airports,” as the architect Norman Foster has called Tempelhof, was one of the world’s first commercial airfields. During the 1930s, the architect Ernst Sagebiel expanded it for Adolf Hitler into what was then the largest building in Europe, a triumphal entryway into the new Germania, smack in the heart of Berlin.
And there it still is, a 15-minute taxi ride from the Brandenburg Gate, dozing in the spring sun, the finest work of Berlin architecture surviving from that era. A soaring, light-filled, surprisingly welcoming space, the main terminal now serves only a dozen or so short-haul commercial flights a day; it’s a glorious time capsule of mid-century, with towering windows, a 1950s neon sign for a defunct restaurant at one end, and a handful of somnolent employees slumped behind their desks, staring into the vastness or skimming the newspaper.
In the yawning silence, it was possible the other morning to hear the click-clack of a dog’s paws on the polished linoleum floor. An elderly resident of the neighborhood was taking his pet for a daily stroll through the empty terminal. Black-and-white snapshots, tacked to a wall, showed Gary Cooper and Errol Flynn debarking onto the tarmac, waving into flashbulbs. A rental-car clerk, with not a customer in sight, leaned back in his booth.
Most of the rest of the huge building, which stretches for blocks, is empty today. Tempelhof, in its limbo, is said to cost the city $15 million a year ($185 million in the last 10 years).
With America’s reputation currently in a nosedive here, the airport recalls better days. On June 26, 1948, in response to the Soviet blockade, C-47s began landing millions of tons of food, coal and other supplies in an operation centered at Tempelhof. At its peak, the airlift landed planes every 90 seconds in West Berlin, along the way dropping handkerchief parachutes of raisins and chocolate into the arms of children. Raisin bombers, they came to be called.
Over time, East Berlin and West Berlin developed their separate airports. Besides Tempelhof, Tegel grew in the former French sector. With reunification, it was decided to mothball both Tegel and Tempelhof and consolidate the city’s air traffic at a single site, Schönefeld. Tempelhof’s landmark building would be preserved for some use yet to be determined — a museum, offices (nothing was definite, in typical Berlin fashion). The goal was to attract more intercontinental flights and make Berlin more attractive to businesses. Both main political parties, the conservative Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats, signed off on it.
Then delay followed delay in the way things do here. What a glorious city Berlin is, and what a mess. It is bankrupt and underpopulated. Big companies like Sony, Samsung and Mercedes, enticed after reunification by subsidies intended to boost business, took advantage of the offers then skipped town.
There’s no city plan worthy of a great capital, partly because of old, festering rivalries. Years ago it was decided to demolish the Palace of the Republic, a 1970s bronzed glass-and-steel behemoth at the center of the old East Berlin. West Berliners saw it as an eyesore that housed the loathed East German parliament.
East Berliners recalled it affectionately, because its clutch of theaters and bowling alleys and restaurants were where they could escape the drudgery of Communist life. It’s now to be replaced with a fake Baroque palace, a copy of the Hohenzollern schloss formerly on that site, which was bombed, then razed by the Communists — a forthcoming Potemkin village and a sad excuse for a showpiece in a city that prides itself on its cultural sophistication. Fortunately, Berlin is now too broke to finish demolition, which has already taken longer and cost more than the building did to put up.
As for Tempelhof, the city’s popular mayor, Klaus Wowereit, led the push to shut it immediately and not wait for Schönefeld’s expansion. This partly explains why Conservative opponents in town changed course and vigorously campaigned to save it. They rallied nostalgic West Berliners. The conservative Springer newspapers joined in. So did Chancellor Angela Merkel. America, with its shaky standing, became a subtle undercurrent in the debate.
But, through it all, neither side offered anything approaching a concrete plan for what actually to do with Tempelhof, whether it’s kept open or closed. An offer by the American billionaire Ronald S. Lauder to invest $500 million to turn it into a big health center, with its airport to serve wealthy patients, was shot down, never mind that the city is desperate for outside investment.
In the event, referendum voters, splitting along the old cold war lines, endorsed keeping it open by a 3 to 2 ratio, but only 22 percent of Berliners cast ballots, shy of the 25 percent required. Mr. Wowereit may have kept turnout low by saying beforehand that he wouldn’t even abide by a yes vote, the referendum being nonbinding.
The Tempelhof Airport He and his allies had leaned on the argument that Tempelhof was bad for the environment and the neighborhood. Those living nearby turned out to cast the largest percentage of votes in favor of saving the airport. A Tempelhof resident appeared on German television, standing in her little public allotment garden beside the airfield’s barbed wire fence, straining to make herself heard over the roar of a Lear jet. “It is so comfortable here,” she said. She wasn’t being ironic.
Having seen that woman on television, the architecture writer Gerhard Matzig, in The Süddeutsche Zeitung explained that “there are residents of Tempelhof who can understandably imagine a life without aircraft noise and danger, but the much more interesting phenomenon is the string: aircraft — noise — barbed wire — coziness.”
Exactly. Certain places, like certain works of music and love affairs, inspire bonds of affection that transcend logic and can’t be expressed in profit and loss. It doesn’t matter whether they’re great cultural monuments or civic symbols. Tempelhof also happens to be those things. Mr. Matzig went on to point out that repurposing it, as a museum, or whatever, won’t really spare it. Such places tend to “lose their strength and magic,” he wrote.
Even with few flights, Tempelhof remains magical. Berlin’s a mess but glorious because, being bankrupt, it is more affordable than other major capitals, which makes it attractive to singles, artists, students, immigrants, people on the dole and dreamers. Its airports cater to this population of discount passengers. Tegel is the most efficient and wonderful airport in Europe; Tempelhof, the most beautiful. Even homely Schönefeld works. Quiet, efficient, cheap, humane and perfect for flying around the continent, they collectively improve Berlin in ways immeasurable by accountants and politicians.
By contrast, Berlin’s dated vision to construct, at Schönefeld, what is to be called Berlin-Brandenburg International — the city’s answer to Frankfurt, London, New York and Paris, where air travel is utterly appalling — betrays provincial megalomania. It’s one of Berlin’s notorious charms and weaknesses. In this case, it is leading the city toward its own version of the demolition of Penn Station. In the name of progress, a metropolis becomes less, not more, cosmopolitan.
A few days ago, the newspaper Der Tagesspiegel published several broadsheet pages about the latest multimillion-dollar pipe dreams for Tempelhof: turning the runways into a “roller-skaters’ paradise”; making the airfield a park; devising an entertainment palace, a high-tech industrial center, apartments for 4,600 people, a flight museum, movie studios, a Formula 1 track.
The book of Berlin turns out to be “Don Quixote.”