Monday, 28 April 2008

Auf wiedersehen tempelhof

Berlin's historic Tempelhof Airport, which has been on death row for awhile now, has finally run out of appeals. The airport, which was the site of the Berlin airlift of 1948-49, is slated to be shut down to make room for the desperately needed intercontinental airport being built. Though a grass roots campaign had been formed to save the airport because of its historical claims to fame, a referendum vote yesterday in Berlin failed to save it, because not enough Berliners turned up. The referendum didn't receive enough turnout to make it valid, evne though the people who did show up voted by a ratio of 3 to 2 to block the airport's closure.

Other than the airlift, the airport has some other claims to fame. Orville Wright tested one of his flying machines on the grounds, and Adolf Hitler later built the largest building in Europe there (which has curiously caused the Israeli press to dub it "Hitler's Airport").

I'm actually not surprised that the measure failed to get enough people to the polls. A united Berlin has been labouring under the strain of not having an intercontinental airport for almost two decades now. Because the city was divided for half of the 20th century it was only able to build three small airports, and that's been the situation to this day. Currently, people needing to fly from outside Europe to Berlin need to transfer somewhere else, usually Frankfurt. This is a less than desirable situation for one of Europe's most powerful capitals, and has been a big block in efforts to attract companies to move their headquarters there from elsewhere in Germany. My guess is that Berliners didn't want to do anything that might jeapordize the new airport's construction.

It will be missed though. I've flown into Tempelhof when going to Berlin and I've always found it really interesting. It's 1930's architecture was so stark and imposing, it truly was evocative of an era. Judging from the turnout of this vote, perhaps it is a symbol of an era Berliners would rather forget.

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