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.