Written by Dave O'Byrne -
One of the places in Berlin I've always wanted to ride through is Tempelhof Airport, situated south of the city, just south of Kreutzberg. Constructed in 1927, and reconstructed again by the Nazi's in the mid 1930's, the current version of the airport was conceived by German architect Ernst Sagebiel, between 1934-1936, based on Albert Speer’s masterplan. The name 'Tempelhof' was chosen due to the fact that the site of the airport was built on land originally owned by Knights Templar, in medieval Berlin. Many historical reasons to visit this interesting site.
Tempelhof Airport was designed to last until the year 2000, has been in operation for over 80 years, and is the only major airport in the world to have remained virtually unchanged over more than 60 years. It was both a predecessor and source of inspiration for contemporary super-airports, being designed by modern architects today. It was one of the world's largest buildings for a number of years. You can really see this in the huge scale and striking form of the main terminal building.
The day I was there, I couldn't get access to the runway side of the building (with the motorbike) to get photos of the curved roof canopy, so we'll have to go there again, and organisse "Access All Areas" for a proper photo & video shoot...
As a structure, Tempelhof was iconic for a number of reasons, for example, it’s intended position as an international gateway, or the 'Gateway to Europe' in Albert Speer’s masterplan of Welthauptstadt Germainia (Hitler's "world capital" Germania). In 1927, it became the first airport with an underground railway station. The structure was designed to resemble an eagle in flight, with semicircular hangars forming the Eagle's wings. The mile-long hangar roof was intended to form a stadium for spectators, for air shows and demonstrations. That would have been spectacular.
Orville Wright had his first flight demonstration here in 1909, the same year as the french pilot Armand Zipfel, made his first flight here. The airline Deutsche Luft Hansa was founded in Tempelhof on 6 January 1926, which later became 'Lufthansa', as we know it today.
During World War II, the underground tunnel system at Tempelhof was used as a production facility for "Stuka" dive bombers and later Focke-Wulf 190 fighter planes. During the Battle for Berlin in 1945, the airport was rigged with explosives by the retreating German army, to hinder the Russian advance, and this claimed the lives of many Russian soldiers. To neutralise the traps, the Russian Commander ordered the flooding of the lower levels, and even to this day, some of the lower 3 levels still contain flood water, and others areas have never since been opened up, due to unexploded German ordnance.
Walk 200 meters north of the main airport complex, towards the city centre, and you will find Platz der Luftbrücke, and the monument commerating the allied efforts under the Berlin Airlift, when Tempelhof served as the main supply hub for the allied response to the Berlin Blockade.
On June 20th 1948, Soviet authorities halted all traffic by land and by water, in or out of the western-controlled section of Berlin. As as result, the only remaining access routes into the city were by way of three, 20 mile-wide air corridors, across the Soviet-occupied zone of Germany. The city's 2.5 million residents were in danger of running out of food and basic supplies, so on June 26th, 1948, USAF Douglas C-47 Skytrains flew 80 tonnes of food into Tempelhof, starting the 11-month Berlin Airlift, subsequently supplying the 4,500 tons of food, coal and other essential supplies needed on a daily basis, for Berlin residents to maintain a minimum level of existence.
In addition to the airlift operations, American engineers constructed a new 6,000-foot runway at Tempelhof between July and September 1948, to accommodate the expanding requirements of the airlift. The last airlift transport touched down at Tempelhof on September 30th, 1949.
Following the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany, the USAF 7350th Air Base Group at Tempelhof was deactivated in June 1993, and in 1996, all international traffic to and from Berlin was moved to Berlin-Schönefeld International Airport, and Tempelhof Airport finally closed all operations on 30 October 2008. Next time we go there, we'll try to arrange a Journalist tour of the airport, and get those shots of the motorbikes under the curved canopy roof!