Flughafen Tempelhof: Inside Berlin’s Abandoned Downtown Airport
During my trip to Berlin this past March, I had the opportunity to visit one of Europe's most historic and interesting airports. Having served as the center of the Berlin Airlift during the Cold War and more recently as one of Berlin's main commercial passenger airports, Flughafen Tempelhof (Tempelhof Airport) now sits abandoned just a few miles from the city center. The crazy thing is that the airport grounds are actually open to the public and serve as a massive green space for Berliners to enjoy. They also offer limited tours of the terminal and other airport buildings and I just happened to be there on a day that an English tour was being given. Needless to say, I was in. Situated within Berlin's city limits, Tempelhof Airport opened in the early 1920's and served as one of Europe's main regional airports with frequent flights to cities within Germany as well as London and Paris. Built about a decade later, its iconic quarter-circle terminal, complete with a roof that aircraft can literally park under, is one of the largest buildings in the world. The airport had two relatively short (about 6,000 foot) parallel runways that required low approaches over nearby neighborhoods and city buildings. The advantage of this was that it only took about ten minutes to reach the center of Berlin from the time your flight landed. Beginning in the late 1940s, Lufthansa ceased passenger operations at Tempelhof and the airport was transformed into a military base. At the end of World War II, the airport was given to the United States Army by the Soviet Union. Just a few years later, Tempelhof served as the focal point of the Berlin Airlift when the Soviets closed off all access to the Western-controlled sections of Berlin. It was then that American and British forces flew tons of food and other essential supplies into Tempelhof on thousands of flights from western Europe in what was probably the most famous strategic operation of the Cold War. After the fall of the Soviet Union at the end of the Cold War, American troops left Tempelhof and the airport restarted commercial passenger operations. The airport actually became one of the busiest in Europe at the time with links to the United States on American Airlines, Paris on Air France and BEA to London, among several others. PanAm even had a domestic German hub at here at one point, with flights to cities such as Frankfurt, Munich, Stuttgart and Cologne. To the dismay of many Berliners, the airport ceased all operations in 2008 when the last flight departed for Mannheim. As I mentioned, the airport today is mostly abandoned except for the runways and surrounding land being open to the public as a giant park. Thousands of locals can be found at the park every weekend roller skating, kite-flying, running, or enjoying a picnic. You can find a few rotting aircraft scattered across the airport grounds if you look hard enough. When I was there, people seemed oblivious to the fact that the massive park they we're playing football in was once one of the most important airports in Europe. Anyway, let's have a look inside Flughafen Tempelhof... The passenger terminal and other airport buildings are one of the most well-preserved examples of Nazi-architecture remaining in Europe. The circular shape with a massive accessible roof overlooking the aircraft parking ramp was designed such that the airport could serve as a giant theater. And it wasn't a theater to showcase some of Germany's newest hit musicals or operas. The airport was to serve as a massive gathering spot for Hitler and his Nazi party rallies where thousands of onlookers could be in attendance (see first photo below). Viewed from above, the airport buildings are in the shape of a flying eagle, a symbol of the Nazi party. Tips for visiting Flughafen Tempelhof: Whether or not you are an aviation enthusiast like myself, I'd strongly recommend stopping by Tempelhof if you ever find yourself in Berlin. It is a great place to get some fresh air as well as learn about one of the most historic and important airports in world history. The area can be reached by taking the U-bahn (subway) train "U6" to the Tempelhof, Paradestrasse, or Platz de Luftbrücke stations. The Tempelhof station is also served by several S-Bahn (regional train) lines, including the loop that goes around central Berlin. The park itself is open from 6 AM or 7 AM (depending on the season) until sunset and entrance is free. You must be on a tour in order to access the terminal and other buildings. They are offered at 1:30 PM & 3:30 PM on Wednesdays and Fridays, 3 PM on Saturdays, and 2 PM on Sundays and last about two hours. Tickets cost 13 Euro. I recommend getting there fairly early as the tour sold out about 20 minutes ahead of time on the day I was there. The ticket office & tour meeting point are located in the General Aviation Terminal (GAT). More details can be found here. Also, if anyone has any personal photographs of or experience with Flughafen Tempelhof, I'd love to hear from you. Feel free to comment here or contact me.