All Change At Berlin Tempelhof Airport

It’s only when you’re walking down the airport runway that you realize how big it really is. Runways are designed on an inhuman scale. If you’re an aircraft, they’re just long enough to claw yourself into the air. This one, Tempelhof runway 9L/27R, is 2,094 meters long. It takes you 20 minutes of brisk walking to cover the distance a Pan Am Boeing 747 would accelerate through in 60 seconds. This is clearly not a landscape built for feet.

Except, scratch that. You look around and there are people everywhere. Some, like you, are walking down the asphalt. Many more have taken to the grass, occasionally forming sociable huddles around a guitar, or the Berlin equivalent of a picnic basket. It’s four years after Tempelhof closed for the last time and after the last aircraft departed – an Antonov AN-2 delayed by bad weather. Now this is a place being reworked for a different scale of existence. Before, everything needed to be colossal. This place is still vast – 100 acres larger than Manhattan’s Central Park – and in satellite photos it looks like a 400-hectare divot has been whacked out of Berlin by some continent-sized golf club. On the ground, it’s so big that there’s little sense of being in a city park at all. You’re not in Berlin anymore – you’re in Tempelhof.

You’ve been told that the terminal building, once one of the 20 largest buildings in the world, is well worth seeing. From this end of 27R it’s unimposing, a low dark silhouette perhaps a quarter-hour’s stroll away. Half an hour later you still haven’t reached it, and it has eaten the horizon. This 4,000-foot-long semicircle of hallways and hangers was designed to be the ultimate symbol of National Socialism – an eagle, stooping for a kill. Its roof was a mile long. Today the terminal building is a mass of private offices and rental space, and it’s frequently used for events that require a stage of epic proportions.

%Gallery-184233%Someone once said that Tempelhof airport united “the characteristics of an inland sea with the yearning for faraway places.” The only thing you’re yearning for right now is a cold beer, but the contents of your water bottle will have to do. You sit on the runway’s grass verge and watch everyone else. Most of them are clearly smarter than you, because they brought wheels: rollerblades, bicycles, skateboards and Segways. The runways funnel the speedy, and everyone else is meandering, enjoying a succession of moments. Nobody is hurrying because there’s no point – everywhere here is too far away to arrive quickly. You start to realize what you’ve been missing. It’s not just about geography – it’s also about time.

In a city famous for never standing still, this park (its official name: Tempelhof Freedom) is evolving into something much busier. Great strips of it are being put aside for formal development, while others are being used in more organic ways, the most charming being the allotment shantytown of Stadtteilgarten Schillerkiez. Here, wooden benches, pallets, boxes and barrels have been bolted together to form something excitingly ramshackle – a dab of Harry Potter, a sprinkle of Deadwood – and every hollow is filled with soil and sprouting plants (digging is forbidden, so this is the only way crops can be grown). Nearby, poles hoist animal sculptures into the air at the edge of grassland where dogs must be kept on a leash because the wildlife, including several red-listed species, is making a comeback. It looks like anyone could turn up and make something – a community art-space that would never run out of room. However, it might run out of time.

In four years, this park will be transformed for Germany’s International Horticultural Fair, creating an entirely new landscape specifically designed for foot traffic. Developers Gross Max and Sutherland Hussey will be improving access and installing pathways galore, although their redesign proposal affirmed a commitment to retaining “a contemporary prairie for the urban cowboy.” The same plan called for a 200-foot-high hill capped with an angel – not the first time a local architect has suggest Tempelhof has its own mountain. Other developments will include the relocation of the Central and Regional Library for Berlin to the park’s southwest edge – a wise move judging from the amount of people currently sat enjoying the afternoon sunlight with a book in their hands. The park will fill up, inside and out, and as the official redevelopment website notes, “the open spaces of Tempelhof Freiheit will not remain the way they appear today.”

You walk until your feet hurt, and you still get nowhere. So you turn around, and make your way back to the shallows, up the slope to the park gates at Oderstrasse (opened at 6 a.m.; closed at sunset). This late in the day everyone is reluctantly heading back towards reality, lingering on the grass to watch the sun redden and slip behind the apartment blocks in the far distance, at the other side of the world. Everything is in the pastel evening shades of England’s Dartmoor or the hills of Yorkshire. A wild place, uncolonized but belonging to anyone who wants it. How will it look the next time you visit? You’re glad you saw it now, before it all changed once again. And now you need that beer.

[Photo Credits: Mike Sowden]

Looking back at ’08 – 5 things no longer with us

We lost quite a bit in 2008. Several old banks are gone, the value of your house is probably gone, and in the world of travel several things disappeared for good as well.

I’ve listed 5 things no longer with us as we head into the new year. Come back in a few days to read my list of 5 things we gained in 2008, and keep your fingers crossed that things pick up a bit in 2009!

Aloha Airlines

In 2008, almost 80 airlines went bankrupt. I’m sure most of you were not too upset when Swazi Express Airways stopped flying, but one of the more popular airlines we lost was Aloha Airlines.

Aloha had been flying between the islands and the mainland since 1946, but 2008 would become their final year. As usual, rising fuel costs were cited as one of the main reasons they could not survive.

Another, probably more important reason for their demise, was an intense price war that broke out between Aloha and GO!. GO! started offering inter island flights to local residents for as little as $15.

In an ironic twist of events, the very airline that contributed to the collapse of Aloha has managed to purchase their name and will be renaming themselves “Aloha” next year.


Skybus Airlines

Airlines come, and airlines go. But seldom does this happen as fast as with Skybus. Skybus started operating out of Columbus, Ohio in May of 2007, and by April of 2008 it was grounded. The airline had set itself up like many European carriers, with flights to smaller secondary airports, a flexible pricing system and even forced people to dispose of all food and beverages before boarding the plane.

Once on board, food, beverages, snacks and pillows were sold, and 10% of the revenue became salary for the flight attendants.

The concept obviously looked good on paper, but their timing was horrible, and passengers did not care for the total lack of service. Skybus never published a phone number, and all communications with the airline had to be made through email.

In the end, their business model clashed with rising fuel prices, and the airline went under, stranding 1000’s of people at various airports around the country.


Free baggage allowance

Of all the perks the airlines took away from us in recent years, this is the one that is bound to hurt the most. I survived the removal of pretzels, I managed to deal with a 4 hour flight without a pillow, but forcing people to pay for their checked luggage is just cruel.

Of course, the natural effect this is having on passengers and their bags, is that people are now carrying more than ever on board the plane. The airlines still have a tad of compassion left, as their elite travelers are currently exempt from these new money making measures.


Berlin Tempelhof Airport

I’m sure more airports closed in 2008, but none of them were as important to aviation history as Berlin Tempelhof. The airport closed on October 30th, and will make way for a single Berlin Airport which is scheduled to open in 2011.

Tempelhof played a very important role in German aviation history, and was the home of Lufthansa for many years. Of course, the war transformed the airport, and the massive terminal building at Tempelhof was one of many buildings Hitler commissioned for the city. After the war, Tempelhof played a pivotal role in supplying food and other supplies during the Berlin Airlift.


The 2008 Chinese Olympics

The buildup to the Chinese Olympics was filled with scandals, anticipation and a lot of worrying.

In the end, the games went pretty much like clockwork. It’s always a little sad when such a long wait for something is over in just 2 weeks. The Chinese put on one heck of a show, in some of the most impressive sporting venues the world has ever seen.

Like with most Olympic events, before the games start, there is always a ton of bad news, rumors about incomplete facilities and some corruption scandals, but he Chinese managed to prove everyone wrong, and gave the world a great show as well as a nice view into their culture.

The end of an era – Berlin Tempelhof airport closing today

At 9:50 pm tonight, Berlin Tempelhof airport will say farewell to its final passenger carrying flight.

Fellow Gadling blogger Jeffrey White actually lives several blocks from Tempelhof, and covered the announcement itself back in May, but today is the day when it actually happens.

After 80 years of continued operation, one of the oldest airports in the world will shut down for good. Tempelhof is where the German aviation industry was born, and was home to Lufthansa for many years. At one point, Tempelhof was even the largest aviation hub in Europe.

Of course, Tempelhof also went through a dark period when it was used during the Second World War. It was Hitler himself who is responsible for demanding the massive terminal building at Tempelhof, just like many other impressive buildings erected in Berlin during the war. When the Germans capitulated, Tempelhof was briefly operated by the Soviets before being handed over to the Americans in July of 1945.After the war ended, Tempelhof played an important role in the Berlin Airlift when Allied troops defied the Soviets by bringing food and fuel to war torn Berlin.

It is this piece of history that has divided Berliners in their support of keeping the airport open. Many East Berliners still see the airport as a symbol of the split in their city that lasted so long, and a turning point in Allied-Soviet relations that spelled the birth of the Cold War.

The decline of passenger numbers at Tempelhof started in the 70’s, but the airport saw a brief rise in flight traffic after the German unification in 1990. When the East and West united, Berlin suddenly had three airports, and after several years, airlines once again moved away from Tempelhof back to Schoenefeld and Tegel.

The closure has been in the making for several years, and the actual signature for its closure was placed back in 2005. The end of Tempelhof is all part of a new project to move all Berlin air traffic to one new airport; Berlin Brandenburg International airport (BBI) which is scheduled to open in 2011. BBI is built on the location of the current Schoenefeld airport. When BBI opens, yet another Berlin airport will cease to exist; Tegel.

The new airport will make air travel to and from Berlin much easier, thanks to a direct rail link into the city center, and several highway access point.

Despite all these new changes, it’s always a shame to see another icon of the aviation world disappear. Attempts to preserve the terminal buildings at Tempelhof failed and it is not exactly clear what the plans are with regards to the airport.

Tempelhof Airport’s closure will be good news for Berlin

A lot has been made of the referendum earlier this week in Berlin over whether or not Tempelhof Airport should close, during which those bidding to save the historic building lost. It’s an interesting story that has Berlin once again divided between east and west. West Berliners, remembering the airport’s role in keeping them alive in the years of the Berlin Airlift of 1948-49, naturally want to preserve the building. East Berliners don’t, perhaps because the airport in many ways helped divide the city in the first place, and was an early precursor to the Berlin Wall.

Either way, the fact of the matter is that the referendum was meaningless (and technically non-binding). City officials decided quite a while ago to close the airport.

I live a few blocks away from the airport, and from a historical perspective I’d like to see the building preserved; it truly is an impressive site to see up close (the airport was once the largest building in Europe). But the fact of the matter is that very few use the airport these days: private charters mostly, and Brussels Airlines. Those who want to close it say they need to make room, money wise, for a massive airport project planned for the Schoenefeld section of the city. I can get behind this.

Berlin is unique among European capitals in that it doesn’t have a major airport. Its two airports — Tegel and Schoenefeld — strike any who land at them as woefully inadequate for a major city like Berlin. They are simply too small, and cannot handle the increasing number of people who are traveling to Berlin. So, the plan right now is to fully upgrade Schoenefeld into Berlin’s primary international airport sometime in the next few years. Trust me, the city needs it.

Things always happen slowly in Berlin. It’s a fair question to ask how the capital of Germany has survived so long without a main airport. But then again, the city only unveiled its main train station two years ago, in time for the World Cup.