An airport without travellers is like night without day; the two naturally coincide. Berlin Tempelhof, an abandoned airport, has arrival halls that hold the excitement of past passengers where the memories of heartfelt goodbyes fade like the paint on the walls. It is something so unique and bizarre because it is not often airport walls tell a story to people who are willing to listen, rather than travel in another direction.
The story of this airport is an interesting one and a two hour guided tour of the airport will give you a complete idea of the grandeur of the building and the tales of struggle and triumph which have since been neglected and ignored.
Before the 1970’s the Tempelhof airport had seen over six million travellers and the facilities trump any other airport. Walking through the airport would make anybody feel so insignificant because of the sheer size. Knowing the history of Germany makes it even more intriguing and made me question the sheer capabilities of man.
Hitler had imagined great things for this airport and wanted it to serve as a multi purpose building. It would not only be an airport but would also allow for hundreds of thousands of people to gather to listen to the captivating speeches and the calculated propaganda which fuelled the basis of the Nazi Party during the Second World War. Hitler wanted Berlin to be redesigned and Tempelhof was only the beginning of this wildly overestimated plans.
This enormous building; shaped like an eagle spreading its wings, was the largest of its kind when it was built. It has since been the inspiration for many of the world’s most modern and busiest airports. It still ranks third as the tallest building in the world in terms of floor area.
During the Second World War it held in its broad grasp a prison camp. Hundreds of political prisoners were held here in 20 barracks which were destroyed after the war when the Allies took control of the area.
The Americans used the airport as their base during the Cold War for the Berlin Blockade. The Berlin Blockade saw the Allied forces bringing in supplies to West Berlin when the USSR blocked all land routes into Berlin through East Germany.
Planes were landing here every minute with essential supplies for the citizens in West Berlin. The air traffic at this airport was busier than that of London Heathrow and if pilots weren’t on time they had to fly back to their starting point and try again at a later stage.
When these soldiers weren’t constantly bringing in a stream of supplies they lived in the self-sufficient airport complex. Many soldiers had their own rooms in the barracks and didn’t have to share. There was a grocery store, basketball court, entertainment room, restaurant and bar. Soldiers were able to live their free time here and to escape the world outside where the Berlin Wall stood tall and mighty while separating different ideologies.
One story which I found most interesting was that of the Raisin Bombers or Candy Bombers as they were commonly known. Gail Halvorsen, one an American pilot, used to regularly fly into Tempelhof and he would drop candy and chocolate bars attached to handkerchiefs creating parachutes of joy for those children living below. The Candy Bombers created hope and happiness in a time of struggle. This is just one tale from this historic place and a visit to the airport will provide any curious traveller with the chance to hear what the wall have to say.
Now the buildings wait for visitors and the runways have become an outdoor oasis for families. Children race on bikes race down the middle and the health concious sprint down the 2km strip. If you were interested in visiting the airport then have a look at the Tempelhof website as tours offered in different languages and at different times. The tour cost €12 and was completely worthwhile. Our guide was so knowledgeable an gave the group some great insight into this mysterious building.
Tempelhof may also be the only chance you get to go to an airport where you don’t have heartfelt goodbyes, where there is no excitement for the prospect of travelling somewhere new and where the stories cling to the walls like passengers cling to a boarding pass before leaving the gate.