Inside Tempelhof

Tempelhof is not just a park with a different story. It's quite a powerful symbol of modern Berlin. I was lucky to take part in a tour around the insides of the airport, discovering what the former American military base left inside the unused building. Let me tell you: it's as phenomenal from the inside as much as from the outside. Basketball courts and former bowling alleys, little forgotten bunkers and shelters-- had this building not been an airport, it would still be fascinating. I didn't even know the hallways were open to the public (I think you're obliged to book a tour though). 
31 Oct ’13 by Sara Architecture

It’s important to understand the history of Tempelhof before the discussion about the potential future uses can begin. People are probably so emotional about Tempelhof because it represents part of their history, too.

Tempelhof History

Tempelhof was once the most advanced airport of Europe. The roaring 20ies in Berlin – the 3rd largest city in the world – made it happen.  In the darker times that followed, the building was extended into a monumental craft of insanity by the Nazis. Fascist architecture – imposing neoclassicism, the sheer dimensions of the stones used – took over, Tempelhof became a concentration camp, a military facility and a stadium for the brainwashed crowds.

After the war, West Berlin got its airport back, and became a symbol of freedom run by the Americans. The Berlin Airlift, that provided the Americans and the West Germans of Berlin with food and hope, was now forever connected to Tempelhof. An airport, right in the middle of the city, right to where the spirit of Berlin returned after the wall came down.

In 2008, Tempelhof closed even though a referendum was called for. Voters against the closure were overruled. Why would you want to close down a fully operational airport, something so rich and full in history?

The architecture is what dictates the intimidating atmosphere. It’s beautiful in an eerie way, knowing that this construction of power and authority has caused incredible pain to many people. Nowadays, with the former runway becoming a playground and experimental lab for everybody, the building is reclaimed as well. But only it in its current state of transit – a heterotopia of sorts – can it both conserve the old and make room for the new, the transformed, the conquered meaning of the city.

Another referendum is taking place soon. People in and around the Kiez want to stop development on the former runways – they prefer the emptiness. Maybe the emptiness provides room for individual projections better than a project that represents a universal image of what to do with all of that space. Maybe Tempelhof is worth more if it’s nothing but an abandoned airport.

Five comments


  2. Who was the tour with?

  3. I’m sorry for not mentioning – I think there’s only one official tour service in Tempelhofer Freiheit, here’s the link:
    Our tourguide was a charming albeit bizarre guy who worked for the US Air Force while the airport was still under control of the Allies.

  4. Great post, and nice pics ! And thanks for the link for the guided tours !

Other opinions

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