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10.20.2009
Taking Off
Surprise decision made to turn fabled Berlin airport into a public park
The 568 acres surrounding the Tempelhof Airport will be turned into the park, and the old terminal buildings will be repurposed as well.
Courtesy Berlin Office for City Planning

After almost a year of debate, the Berlin government announced last month that the 568 acres of open land belonging to the former Tempelhof Airport would be transformed into a public park, to open next May. The city bought the property from the German federal government last month for $51 million.

The surprise announcement is the latest piece of Berlin’s $233 million redevelopment plan for the storied airfield, which closed last fall as part of an effort to consolidate air traffic at a new facility outside the city. “The site will take the idea of the European city further, providing the city with sustainable lifestyles and spaces,” said Ingeborg Junge-Reyer, the city’s director of urban planning.

The airfield is fenced off today, but by next spring it will begin the transformation into a public park.
Clay Risen

The fate of the airport has been the focus of a contentious debate since the mid-1990s, when city and federal authorities announced a plan to build a new, modern airport outside the city. According to the plan, two of the city’s three existing airports—Tempelhof and Tegel—would be closed, while the new airport would be built on the site of Schoenefeld, on Berlin’s southeastern edge.

But thanks to a lack of funds and political direction, it wasn’t until October 2008 that the last flight finally left Tempelhof. In June, more than 2,000 protesters converged on the airport’s chain link fence in an effort to occupy parts of the land, leading to violent clashes with police and several hundred arrests. Rumors had been swirling that Mayor Klaus Wowereit wanted to hand most of the property over to private developers, while the public demanded that it be turned into housing or park space.

The airport in 1984, when it was still in operation.
USAF/Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

The 3.2 million-square-foot terminal and other primary facilities, mostly built by the Third Reich and a critical part of the 1948–1949 Berlin Airlift, are landmarked structures and were never in danger of demolition.

The masterplan, first announced last summer, is a compromise among developers, residents, and the cash-strapped city. The bulk of the former airfield will be converted into parkland, including a softball field that will be ready later this year.

Existing structures will be reconfigured into exhibition and office space for media and other “creative” firms. More office space will occupy a new business district along the field’s southern edge, with preference given to eco-industrial firms. Finally, some 2,700 apartments, housing an estimated 5,400 people, will go up in new neighborhoods along the northern and eastern sides of the airfield.

A version of this article appeared in AN 17_10.21.2009.

Clay Risen