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]

Shaking The Disease

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From August 1984 through the summer of 1985, I lived with my family in Saarland, in the southwestern corner of West Germany. A French protectorate in the years following the Second World War, Saarland was a strange place for a family’s sabbatical year. It felt more like a cul-de-sac on the edge of German-speaking Europe than it did the “heart of Europe,” the notion underlying its contemporary self-presentation. Back then, many of my classmates had never crossed the border into France, which was just two or three miles away. The border felt sealed, even though passport checks were perfunctory and even though French words enlivened local dialects.

Saarland was a good launching pad. The dollar was strong and my parents’ modest discretionary income went far. We jumped on trains, sometimes on consecutive weekends, to explore the surrounding regions and beyond.

In the summer of 1985, we made a particularly exciting journey to Karl-Marx-Stadt (earlier and now again Chemnitz) in East Germany to visit some cousins. My father had become strongly interested in genealogy over the previous decade, and his research had yielded friendships with a slew of West German relatives. We had gotten to know one distant cousin especially well, and he invited us to stay with his aunt and her family near Karl-Marx-Stadt.To visit them we first traveled across West Germany to the border with East Germany and then continued on through East Germany’s train corridor to West Berlin. There was a friction in West Berlin that I hadn’t seen in other European cities, a counterculture that seemed stable and permanent, rooted in its weirdness. We walked near the scary, modern Wall, and combed through the city’s sights.

After a few days in Berlin, we took the train south to Karl-Marx-Stadt. Shortly after we crossed into East Germany, four teenagers boarded the train. There was a flash of negativity about them, a subtle alienation. These teenagers were not like West German kids. They were quiet, first of all, and apparently shy, glancing uncomfortably at us. I couldn’t stop looking at them, drinking all their details in – their hair, their clothes, their attitudes. They were less in-your-face than their West German contemporaries but their defiance was unmistakable. One of them held a little transistor radio. He and I faced each other, our eyes meeting above the seats.

A few minutes in the radio began to play “Shake the disease” by Depeche Mode, which was a big hit that summer. We both started to mouth the words, still viewing each other tentatively. We sang the song silently, observing one another throughout. Along the way he lost his shyness. I was filled with a sense of wonder. Previously I’d considered how fractured we were from another, and now it seemed as if we understood each other very well. The bridge between our two adolescences was this song, bound up in Martin Gore’s strange pairings of words: “you know how hard it is for me to shake the disease / that takes hold of my tongue in situations like these.”

I recall many incidents from the rest of that visit. We met relatives. We witnessed a small wedding in a village church and my mother cried. We walked in the woods. We had difficulty changing money. We drove to a tourist restaurant in the forests near the border with Czechoslovakia. The one completely focused memory, however, was that experience on the train. For that song’s four minutes and 48 seconds, two 15-year-olds shared something. It was everything. It was nothing. It belonged to us.

[Image: Flickr | Hunter-Desportes]

Hangar Now Serves As A Sunny Escape (PHOTOS)

In the middle of snowy Germany, a former aircraft hangar serves as a sunny escape from the cold. Inside the mammoth building – which is tall enough to enclose the Statue of Liberty – is a Caribbean-influenced resort, Tropical Islands.

Besides a beach, a rainforest and a lagoon, Tropical Islands has seven spa zones inspired by various regions of the world, 13 bars and restaurants, and a golf course. There are also 200 rooms, plus an area on the beach for camping. On their website, the complex claims to be “Europe’s largest tropical holiday world.”

Located about 37 miles south of Berlin, Tropical Islands has a maximum capacity of 6,000 visitors per day. The hangar is the largest freestanding hall in the world, originally designed to protect large airships from the elements. It was purchased by the Malaysian corporation Tanjong in 2003, and officially opened its doors less than a year later.

The flora inside Tropical Islands makes up the biggest indoor rainforest in the world. It it home to around 50,000 plants representing 600 different species, some of which are rare.

Although the resort first opened in 2004, these photographs were taken just last week and were first brought to our attention by USA Today. Click through the gallery to see more.

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Editor’s note: A former version of this story mistakenly referred to the hangar as Soviet owned. Although the land was owned by the Soviet Army from 1945 until 1992, Cargolifter AG bought the former military airfield to construct airships, but the company went bankrupt in 2002.

[Photo credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images]

Photo Of The Day: Urban Decay In Cuba

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Oi from Rio de Janeiro, where I’m traveling and soaking up some serious holiday sun. Staying at a guest house in bohemian Santa Teresa, I got to talking to artists and curators from all over the world the other night about cities. We talked about cities going through urban renewal and creative renaissance, such as here in Rio, Berlin, Havana, and even Detroit. The meaning of the phrase “ruin porn” made sense across multiple languages and cultures, and how popular that type of photography is with travelers. Today’s Photo of the Day shows some urban “decay” in Cuba‘s Havana, but I wouldn’t call it a ruin. It’s a more hopeful image; we can imagine that it’s not a decaying building, but a house in transition. The fraying image of the Cuban woman and the colored buildings are proof that someone tried to make it beautiful.

Share your beautiful urban images in the Gadling Flickr pool for a future Photo of the Day.

[Photo credit: Flickr user irr.licht]

Why I Came To South Korea: An Introduction To ‘The Kimchi-ite’

South Korea is not an obvious travel destination, it has no true iconic landmarks and its only recent, distinct cultural exports are kimchi and an amazing horse riding song and dance. When I told people that I would be moving to Seoul, their first question was either “North Korea?” or “….where?” But Korea is a place rich with destinations: immense cities, ski resorts, popular beaches, as well as renowned film festivals and fashion events. It has a history spanning thousands of years, including warring kingdoms, Japanese colonization, ancient temples, rapid industrialization and funny hats.


The capital city of Seoul is a destination unto itself. Less than five decades ago, much of the city was barely even farmland. But today, it is a modern metropolis with cultural assets that rival Tokyo or Berlin. There are world-class restaurants with food from all over the world as well as cheap street food. Dozens of construction projects are underway that will make some of the world’s largest and most beautiful buildings. Seoul is also one of the few truly 24-hour cities in the world. When the nightlife in Tokyo has already died down, Seoul’s countless nightlife districts are just getting started.

As Korea has become prominent in the global conscience, the traveler and expat community has grown. Its central location in Asia makes it a great pit stop for those traveling deeper into the continent. Others stay longer, and often for work. I have met people from all over the world working in Korea as models, computer programmers, writers, actors, bartenders and, more often than not, English teachers.

Korea has an insatiable demand for English education. It is a big part of the college application process and with Korea’s growth in international business, it is often seen as a necessity. That demand, coupled with decent pay and a relatively cheap cost of living (especially compared to Europe, North America and Japan) leads many native English speakers with a penchant for travel to find themselves in Korea.

I also came to Korea to teach English, and like many, it wasn’t a direct route. After I graduated college, my love of traveling influenced me to look for work abroad. I ended up spending a year teaching English in Japan at the foot of Mt. Fuji. I surprised myself by falling in love with teaching, but I hated the monotony of the small town I lived in. Korea is my chance to get back to teaching while living in an energetic mega-city.

Ever since moving to South Korea almost a year ago, I have been amazed so much by everything around me. Its truly unique culture and ridiculously fast-paced lifestyle are like nothing else on the planet. Moving forward with this column, my journey will take you through the life of an expatriate, from the insane spicy foods on the streets of Seoul to deeply rooted Confucianism in everyday culture to journeys around the Asian continent. I hope you enjoy all of its facets as much as I do.