Last Sunday wasn’t just European Election day in Berlin – Berliners were also voting in a referendum about proposed housing development on the site of the former Tempelhof airport (which ceased operations in 2008). 65% of voters decided to keep the ‘Tempelhofer Freiheit’ (Tempelhof Freedom) as a public park and on Monday the bright sunshine and blue sky saw jubilant celebrations on this vast expanse of grass, trees and scrub. Although the huge grey Nazi-built terminal building makes its presence felt, the old airfield has the atmosphere of an enormous country meadow in the middle of a capital city. Berliners have come to love this precious space. I have seen it used it for cycling, inline skating, kite-flying, football, badminton, picknicking and just jogging, walking or chilling out.
In ‘Berlin Unwrapped’ (in the chapter on Hitler’s Berlin) I reported that the Tempelhofer Feld was to undergo ‘a four year 60 million euro facelift’ to turn it into Berlin’s equivalent of New York’s Central Park. But things have changed in the meantime and the Berlin Senate put forward plans to build new housing on the edge of the site. Now they will have to live with defeat in the referendum and find room for housing development elsewhere. Perhaps Berliners will still get their Central Park after all. They have always treasured their green space and know how to enjoy it.
If you are in Berlin for more than a couple of days, it’s definitely worth taking a look at the massive Tempelhof building and its former airfield. U-Bahn line 6 gets you to Platz der Luftbrücke – named after the Berlin Airlift (1948/49) when American and British pilots flew supplies into West Berlin during the Soviet blockade. Outside Tempelhof airport stands a huge memorial to the Airlift – appropriately nicknamed the ‘Hungerharke’ (Hunger Rake) by the ever-humorous and freedom-loving Berliners.
Photo taken of Tempelhof at an American Forces Open Day in 1984