Tempelhof, Collage © Björn Paulissen


The airport is dead; long live the harbor

by Mathis Sommer / translation by Max Bach

The legend of Tempelhof is well-established: Symbol of both the Third Reich's "Germania" megalomania and the legendary Berlin Airlift at the beginning of the Cold War – and that's just referring to the airport.

The last flights from the airport were dispatched only short distances, towards Paderborn or Mönchengladbach – the designation of "Central Airport" seems adequate at best for its location within the city. Since 2008 no more planes have taken off or landed over the heads of passengers waiting on the S-Bahn platform, which was, along with the neighboring freight yard, directly in the flight path; the signal lights on the roofs of the houses in Neukölln have also been extinguished. What remains is one of the biggest buildings in the world, a huge empty plain in the middle of the city, and the potential for something new.

The name Tempelhof goes back most likely to the creation of a court of the Order of the Templars in the twelfth century. The church and birth of the wild one-street village are located on Parkstraße, across from the town hall. Tempelhofer Damm, the lively street sloping south from the southern ridge of the airport, leads the way to the village's center, but its elliptical intersection with the street Alt-Tempelhof does not exactly resemble an old village green (in lieu of a village church there is a döner stand). In the nineteenth century, the city of Berlin gradually crept towards the Tempelhof township from the north. The Tempelhofer Berg became the Kreuzberg and the Tempelhof Field was used at first as a drill ground for Prussian troops. Connected to the city by the Ringbahn in 1872, the compound quickly established itself - apart from the military's use during the week - as a place for big city local relaxation as well as weekend recreation.

Sports took on great significance at the turn of the century: cricket, tennis, soccer, and horse and bike races took place on the field, which was increasingly constricted by settlements based on the "garden city" concept, and also well worth seeing. As Germany's oldest still existing soccer union and first (unofficial) champion, the Berlin Soccer Club Germania 1888 formed here and currently plays not far away on Götzstrasse in the Kreisliga A. Under the National Socialists the union gained notoriety since it was one of the first to exclude a Jewish member - today its website mentions its involvement "against right-wing extremism."

At first, experimental flying contraptions rolled over Tempelhof Field alongside the pigskins. But with the formation of the Berlin Airport Society and the construction of the first barracks for the future central airport, from 1924 on the other uses of the terrain began to die out. The area's sheer scale, clearly visible from the Ringbahn, inspired then as well as now its potential use.

With the construction of the Teltow Canal in 1906, the southern part of Tempelhof also developed superbly. Industrial settlements turned the former county of Teltow into one of the most well-to-do counties in the German Empire, and for this reason it grimly resisted annexation into Berlin in 1920. The Teltow Estate, a Berlin real estate property of southern Brandenburg counties, is still fuming over this dispute. The Tempelhof Harbor they participate in is clearly marked by the clock tower of the mighty Ullsteinhaus next door, completed in 1927 for the Ullstein publishing house after designs by Eugen Schmohl, and not the only example of brick expressionism in this area.    

While the "oldest passenger airport in the world" still awaits a constructive future use, a shopping center has already moved into the harbor's landmark-protected warehouse (coming soon: gastronomy and entertainment according to the standards of "urban waterfront development"). The even older Ringbahn station lies about halfway between the harbor and airport. Whatever happens to the 380 hectares (939 acres) of the former airport field (the discussion was recently heightened thanks to the architectural design for "The Berg") won't change the fact that the legend of Tempelhof will continue to live on.

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