I first wrote about Tempelhof Airport when I was living in Berlin, just before the air terminal shut down in 2008. In fact, my post about Tempelhof’s closing (now deleted) was one of the very first German Way Expat Blog posts. Berliners’ “nein” vote in an April 2008 referendum had sealed the historic airfield’s fate. It ceased operations as an airport at the end of October 2008. But, as with most things in Berlin, the decision on what to do with the now-idle airport remained in limbo for some time. Proposals ranged from developing the large site and using it to provide badly needed affordable housing, to leaving the grounds largely untouched as a park. (Thankfully, the airport terminal building is landmark protected and can’t be torn down. Guided tours are offered for individuals and groups.)
Tempelhof Field covers 386 hectares (954 acres, 1.5 sq. miles) including the terminal structure (303 ha without the buildings). PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons
For a long time after its closing Tempelhof’s huge airfield was fenced off and unavailable to the public. But today Tempelhofer Feld (Tempelhof Field) is a popular park that attracts Berlin families and people of all sorts to its expansive, open environment on the grounds of what was once Berlin’s only commercial airport until the new Tegel airport opened in 1974.
The boarding area of the Tempelhof terminal in 2007, just before the airport closed down. PHOTO: Hyde Flippo
Before Tempelhof Field first became an airport in the 1923, the area was a military parade ground. When the parades ended, Berliners took over the field as a park on weekends and holidays. Today the former parade ground and airport has been returned to its function as a park. The vast Tempelhof park now features six kilometers (4 miles) of asphalt-paved former runways and taxiways for recreational use. Where aircraft once took off and landed, visitors today can walk, jog, bike, skateboard, and rollerblade. The grass-covered fields around the former runways and taxiways are now popular for picnics, sunbathing, kite-flying and other leisure pursuits. (Also see Chloë’s post about Three Great Berlin Buildings That Used to be Something Very Different.)
The former runways at Tempelhofer Feld park today serve as a recreational area for bike riders, joggers, and anyone who wants to enjoy the famed “Berliner Luft” (Berlin air). PHOTO: Hyde Flippo
The Tempelhof Field park is so large it can take 20-30 minutes just to walk from one end to the other. That’s why many people prefer to ride a bike or use something else with wheels (skateboards, scooters, etc., but nothing motorized) to navigate the vast field. It usually requires several visits over time to visit the entire area of the park, not counting the terminal complex.
Tempelhof’s heritage-protected terminal building complex stands largely empty today, but parts of it now are used to house offices for Berlin’s police department, the Berlin traffic control authority, a kindergarten, a dance school, a stage theater, and various other agencies. More recently, in October 2015, the hangar area became home to about 1,000 refugees – first housed “temporarily” in tents and now in cubicles. (Berlin’s refugee housing policies have come under heavy criticism, quite justly.) At its peak, Tempelhof’s hangars housed about 2,500 refugees. In February 2017, the city announced that 600 remaining refugees would move out of Tempelhof by the summer, with all of them rehoused by the early fall. As with any announcement by Berlin officials, one should be skeptical, but for the refugees’ sake let’s hope it’s true. Even after all refugees leave, Hangar 5 at Tempelhof will continue to serve as a refugee intake center (Ankunftszentrum). A new and controversial “container village” on the Tempelhof grounds is supposed to remain there only for two years. Continue reading