Robert Hampton

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22nd June 2012

Don’t Hassle the (Tempel)hof
Posted by at 11.05pm | 2 responses | Out and About

Berlin Tempelhof (former airport)Berlin is well provided for in the airport stakes. Our easyJet flight touched down at Schönefeld Airport, just outside the city. There is another airport at Tegel, in the western suburbs of Berlin.

The two airports are required due to Berlin’s status as an important European destination, but they’re also a relic of the city’s division. During the Cold War, Schönefeld served East Berlin, while Tegel was for West Berliners. One of the final acts of stitching the city back together will be to concentrate all flights on the Schönefeld site and close Tegel. In fact, the new airport was due to open during our stay and – had things gone to plan – we would have been one of the first passengers to use the airport on Sunday 3rd June. My travelling companion Andrew, a committed aviation enthusiast, was immensely disappointed when a series of cockups postponed the airport’s opening to March 2013. To add insult to injury, the free tourism brochure left in our hotel room was filled from cover to cover with articles expounding about how great the new airport terminal was going to be.

Berlin Tempelhof (former airport)Until 2008, Berlin had a third airport – Tempelhof. Opened in 1923, it was one of the oldest airports in Europe, possibly the world. It became famous during the Cold War when, in 1948, Russian troops prevented access to West Berlin, forcing a massive airlift operation. US planes, carrying food and supplies, landed at Tempelhof Airport as often as every three minutes, beating the blockade. The US Air Force maintained a base at Tempelhof until 1994.

Tempelhof closed in 2008 as part of the process of consolidating all Berlin’s air traffic on one terminal. In the long term, the whole area will be redeveloped, but plans have been put on hold due to the current economic crisis. Rather than let the runways and taxiways stand idle, however, the Berlin city authorities have had the smart idea of opening the huge site up to the public as a park.

Berlin Tempelhof signAndrew and I both agreed that we needed to see this place – Andrew, as a student of airport operations, wanted to see the former airport structures up close. I was just fascinated by the Cold War history and the idea of converting an airport into a public park. We jumped on an S-Bahn train to Tempelhof station.

Tempelhof isn’t your typical public park. For one thing, its former status as an airport means that it’s huge, flat, and largely devoid of trees and other features. This is not a park to sit and enjoy the tranquility of nature. This hadn’t deterred the locals from making full use of the facilities: we saw joggers, cyclists, model aircraft fans and one determined kite skater.

Berlin Tempelhof Railway TracksIt’s amazing how quickly nature reclaims things after maintenance stops. Weeds and cracks were already starting to appear in the runways and taxiways, and the railway line into the terminal building was being colonised by shrubbery.

The runway seems to be popular with cyclists – it’s a wide expanse of tarmac, nearly a mile long, after all. It has a big “X” painted on it to signify to pilots that it is out of use, although an emergency landing has taken place here since closure. It would have been nice to hire a bike, as the sprawling site is time-consuming to navigate on foot. Unfortunately we didn’t find the cycle hire kiosk until we were on our way out of the park.

On a sunny day, this would definitely be a good place to spend a few hours. As it was, it was cloudy and threatening to rain, which made for atmospheric pictures, but perhaps not the best climate to enjoy the place at a leisurely place.

Berlin Tempelhof sign painted on taxiway Berlin Tempelhof Runway

The terminal buildings remain, looking much as they must have done during the final days of the airport’s operation. They are now separated from the runways by a metal fence. There were people and vehicles moving about in and around the building, although I couldn’t say what they were doing. I was interested by this unusual tower structure. Andrew wasn’t 100% sure, but he thought it may have been a fuel storage tank.

Former Berlin Tempelhof Terminal Building Berlin Tempelhof Fuel Tower?

There were a few aircraft dotted around – all museum pieces, in various states of decay. Using my expert knowledge of aviation, I can tell you that the picture below left is a white plane, while the picture below right shows a sort of dark grey and blue-ish plane. Yeah, I’m not a plane fan (Andrew, if you’re reading – please fill in the gaps).

Berlin Tempelhof plane Berlin Tempelhof Plane

We decided to leave because the rain, which had been threatening to come down on us all morning, had finally started. Therefore we beat a hasty retreat back to the S-Bahn and back into the centre of Berlin.

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2 Responses
  1. Comment by Werner Saemmler-Hindrichs
    23rd June 2012 at 4:07 pm

    Fuel tank? I hope Andrew knows more about airplanes than he does about antennae. The tower is one of the many relics of the Cold War which dot Tempelhof and housed antennae belonging to the Electronic Security Command unit at Tempelhof. There may have been equipment from two other units in it as well. Geodesics are never used as fuel tanks.

  2. Comment by Andrew
    4th July 2012 at 1:52 am

    Forgot to comment on this before, so here’s my Delayed Reaction! No Sorry I don’t know much about antenna, fuel tank was just a (poor) guess! Anyway the Blue & White Plane is a VFW-Fokker 614, an unusual feature is the engines are mounted in pods on pylons above the wing. The grey & blueish plane rotting away on the right Nord N-262 a French twin-prop, also present but not pictured (Why not as was the nicest looking plane there!) was a Douglas C-54G Skymaster (A military version of the DC-4)see pic here!—Air/Douglas-C-54G-Skymaster/2090805/L/&sid=f05100904ab44370ece0953172de2b48