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.