Keep Tempelhof open!

2nd January 2008, Comments 0 comments

The battle goes on to keep Berlin's Tempelhof Airport open

For Klaus Wowereit, Berlin's governing mayor, no further discussion is needed. The city's central Tempelhof Airport -- renowned for its role in the allied airlift operation that saved two million West Berliners from starvation during the Soviet siege of the city in 1948-49- - has to close by the end of 2008.

However, tens of thousands of angry Berliners cry, No! They have signed petitions in recent months pleading for Tempelhof to be retained as a short-hop inner city airport, similar in size to those found in London and New York.

Berlin's opposition (CDU) party has also made a last ditch effort to rescue Tempelhof airport, which is restricted to smaller-sized planes these days due to the shortness of its runways.

Its leader, Friedbert Pflueger, slams the city's ruling "Red-Red" coalition, made up of Social Democrats and far left (Linke Party) members, saying it has turned a blind eye to the "economic potential" of the airport.

"Tempelhof is not just any old airport," said Pflueger. "It is a symbol of the freedom and the future of this city, and was once a vital artery in West Berlin's survival campaign during the Berlin blockade."


He speaks of the airport's superb location, with its short, direct routes to the old-new heart of Berlin. Renowned investors had, he said, offered to transform the airport terminal into an international health centre, with affiliated airport landing facilities for business and private machines.

Such an investment would be worth 350 million euros ($500 million) to Berlin and create 1,000 new jobs, argues Pflueger.

"Another concept could be the realisation of the world's biggest solar plant on the airport terminal roof, serving as a beacon of future technology," Pflueger said in a recent CDU "pro-Tempelhof" pamphlet, which urged Berliners to back calls for the airport to be kept open.


The Berlin CDU recently invited Michael Glos, Germany's CSU (Christian Social Union) Economics Minister, to fly over Berlin in a 60-year-old C47 plane used in the 1949 airlift operation with 25 other invited guests.

The trip in the "Candy Bomber" (the nickname given to C47s and C54 Skymasters during the airlift) was aimed at boosting the "Keep Open Tempelhof Airport" campaign, in which some 170,000 Berliners need to sign a petition by February to force a referendum.

Already, more than 100,000 citizens have signed the petition. "I am confident we will get the 170,000 signatures needed," claims Pflueger, saying this can only increase pressure on the mayor to rethink his airport closure plans.

Minister Glos flew over the city's rebuilt Potsdamer Platz, the Nazi-built Olympic Stadium, and the Tiergarten studded with "new and old" embassy buildings, during his aerial sightseeing tour. Afterwards he said: "Tempelhof Airport is so convenient, bang in the middle of the city.

"With the increasing growth of business air travel, Tempelhof remains important, at least until the BBI (Berlin-Brandenburg International) Airport at Schoenefeld is ready, said Glos, adding, "Berlin needs a major airport, no question."


Andreas Peter, the chairman of Icat, an organisation battling to save Tempelhof from closure, says some critics accuse him of using old "Berlin Airlift" arguments and emotions as reasons for keeping the city airport in business.

"Although the memory of the airlift is an important theme in the debate, what we emphasize is the airport's significance for the city's future," he says.

Peter claims Tegel, Berlin's airport north-west of the city, is already stretched to capacity. "It makes sense for planes of under 50 tons to be switched to Tempelhof to help relieve congestion," he says.

Tempelhof was converted into a full-time airport in 1922-23. During its busiest pre-war days in 1938-39 more than 52 foreign aircraft and 40 German aircraft were landing there daily.

The Tempelhof terminal was then the world's largest building, housing the entire German aviation administration, Lufthansa's headquarters and a host of foreign airline offices.

The complex was designed to resemble an eagle in flight with the semi-circular design forming the bird's wings. The mile-long hangar roof was to have been laid in tiers to form a stadium for spectators at air and ground demonstrations.

However, by 1943 further construction was discontinued because of the war.

2 January 2008

Copyright DPA with Expatica

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