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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 July, 2004, 02:51 GMT 03:51 UK
Berlin's forgotten airport nears last flight

By Tristana Moore
BBC Berlin correspondent

The terminal building is virtually empty - queues at Tempelhof airport are unheard of.

Berlin's Tempelhof airport
Tempelhof is vast and imposing
Passengers who arrive early for their flights wander around aimlessly. There is one shop which sells newspapers and earplugs - that is about it.

But as you walk up to the facade of the building, you are immediately struck by the imposing architecture. The British architect, Lord Norman Foster, once described Tempelhof as the "mother of all airports".

It is vast - when it was finished in 1941, it was considered to be the second largest building in the world. It was supposed to handle around six million passengers a year.

But now, with Berlin City Council facing bankruptcy, the state authorities say they do not have enough money to keep the airport open.

"We only had 460,000 passengers last year," said Ralf Kunkel, from Berlin International Airport Authority. "That's out of a total of 13 million passengers who flew into Berlin.

"We want to shut down Tempelhof, and eventually also Tegel airport, and bundle together all the air travel into one airport - Schoenefeld - by 2010."

Blockade buster

Templehof was commissioned by Albert Speer, Hitler's chief architect. The building formed an integral part of Speer's master plan for Berlin.

The architect in charge of the project was Ernst Sagebiel, who also designed the Third Reich Air Ministry in Berlin.

Passenger plane at Tempelhof
The runway is too small for big jets
He envisaged a raised stand at Tempelhof for around 70,000 spectators on the roof.

"It was supposed to be the gateway to Europe. Hitler wanted people to be impressed as they arrived in Berlin," said Professor Manfred Goertemacher, a historian at Potsdam University.

Even today, it is not difficult to imagine the Nazi banners which were stretched across the front of the building.

It was during the Berlin Airlift of 1948-49 that Tempelhof Airport came into its own.

Every 90 seconds, an allied aircraft touched down, carrying food and fuel for local residents after Stalin had closed off all supply routes between West Berlin and the other zones controlled by the Western powers.

More than two million tonnes of food and fuel were brought in to supply Berliners. In the end, the Soviets had to lift the blockade.

Rescue bid

"For me, Tempelhof has nothing to do with the heavy past," said Mark Braun, one of Germany's leading architects.

"It has a feeling of euphoria. I remember flying in here from West Germany as a young child. Look at the canopy we're standing under, it's an amazing building."

Tempelhof terminal building
The terminal is virtually empty
Today, there is an eerie feeling at Tempelhof. The runway is too small for jumbo jets, so only a few commuter aircraft use the airport, catering mostly for business travellers who want to get around Germany.

One of the most exotic destinations on offer is Athens.

But there is now a campaign to save Tempelhof airport. Around 20 airlines and businesses which use the airport are taking legal action to try to stop the closure.

"Tempelhof Airport is right in the city centre. Business travellers love the airport, because it's very convenient," said Andreas Peter, chief executive of Bizair.

"Other airports in Berlin are too far out. We don't think the airport authorities at Tempelhof are managing the building properly."

The airport authorities insist Tempelhof has to be closed by the end of October. The building itself is listed - it may become a museum to the airlift.

As for the airfield, there is talk of turning it into a park, even a golf course.

But local residents and politicians who want to keep the airport open are adamant that they will keep on fighting until the last moment.


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