Bid to convert Hitler's airport threatened

21st February 2007, Comments 0 comments

21 February 2007, Berlin (dpa) - Investors seeking to convert Berlin's Tempelhof Airport into an elite hospital with its own runway threatened Wednesday to withdraw their bid unless the city government drops its opposition. "Politicians are currently creating new hurdles ... we will abandon our efforts unless we receive a contrary sign by the beginning of March," said a letter by Estee Lauder cosmetics heir Ronald S Lauder and Fred H Langhammer who heads the company's global affairs division. Lauder wants

21 February 2007

Berlin (dpa) - Investors seeking to convert Berlin's Tempelhof Airport into an elite hospital with its own runway threatened Wednesday to withdraw their bid unless the city government drops its opposition.

"Politicians are currently creating new hurdles ... we will abandon our efforts unless we receive a contrary sign by the beginning of March," said a letter by Estee Lauder cosmetics heir Ronald S Lauder and Fred H Langhammer who heads the company's global affairs division.

Lauder wants to invest 350 million euros (460 million dollars) to convert the Nazi-era airport into a world-class hospital which would create 1,000 new jobs, said the letter which was published by newspapers.

Despite Berlin's unemployment of almost 17 per cent, the hospital project is rejected by Mayor Klaus Wowereit who heads a leftist coalition of his Social Democrats and the former East German communists.

Wowereit insists that Tempelhof, which is located about six kilometres south of the city centre, must close by 2008 so as not to compete with the new Berlin-Brandenburg International Airport due to be completed in 2011. The city's other airport, Tegel, will also be shut.

Lauder stresses he would ban commercial airlines from using Tempelhof and only keep the airport open for air ambulances and private jets. A lawsuit by commercial airlines using Tempelhof seeking to keep the airport open was rejected by a court last year.

"Examples like London show that such airports have a great future," said Lauder in reference to the British capital's City Airport which opened in 1987.

Lauder's airport hospital is backed by corporate heavyweights including Siemens, the state railway Deutsche Bahn and Berlin's leading hospital, the Charite.

The sprawling Tempelhof complex was built on Hitler's orders from 1936 to 1941 as part of Nazi architect Albert Speer's master plan for Berlin.

Designed by Ernst Sagebiel as a physical manifestation of Third Reich power, the 1.2 kilometre-long building clad in limestone includes a massive roof under which aircraft can park to protect departing or arriving passengers from rain or snow.

Tempelhof Airport ended up in the American sector of West Berlin after the Nazi defeat in 1945.

It played a crucial role during the 1948-49 Berlin Airlift when the Soviet Union closed land and water routes to West Berlin, leading the Western allies to supply the city with food and fuel via air corridors across the Soviet zone of eastern Germany.

Unlike most Nazi architecture, Tempelhof has been widely praised by leading contemporary architects.

Sir Norman Foster, designer of London's landmark "Gherkin" Swiss Re building, the Hearst Tower in New York and the dome on Berlin's Reichstag, is a powerful backer of the airport.

"Tempelhof is the mother of all airports," he says.

Foster, in a Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper interview, said no airport in the world has such heroic proportions as Tempelhof.

"You cannot simply abandon something like this. It would be a loss not only for Berlin and Germany but for the entire world," said Foster who designed terminal buildings at London Stansted Airport and Hong Kong International Airport.

Passengers using Tempelhof love its proximity to downtown Berlin and spacious main terminal hall. More than 26,000 people have signed a petition calling for the airport to remain in operation.

The news magazine Der Spiegel says Mayor Wowereit's steely determination to close Tempelhof is not merely due to the fact that it currently runs up millions of euros in losses each year.

"There is the impression that the overhasty decision against Tempelhof is above all politically motivated," says the magazine.

The future Berlin-Brandenburg International Airport - which the mayor strongly backs - is being built at "the faceless and unloved former East German Schoenefeld Airport" southeast of the city, notes Der Spiegel.

Given this is "the middle of nowhere" there are fears that leaving the convenient, downtown Tempelhof in operation would rob passengers from the new mega-airport and endanger its economic success, says the magazine.

DPA

Subject: German news

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