Campaign to Keep Berlin's Tempelhof Airport Open

Campaigners in Berlin are fighting to keep the city's historic Tempelhof Airport open.

As reported in December by Airport International, authorities in Germany decided to close Tempelhof in October 2008 as part of the preparations to centralise air services to and from the city on the forthcoming Berlin-Brandenburg International (BBI), which is located at the existing Berlin-Schonefeld Airport.

But supporters of the grand old airport - which gained fame for its part in the Berlin Airlift during 1948-49 - have rallied in the months since then, and have persauded authorities to hold a referendum on Sunday 27th April at which Berliners will be able to vote whether they want Tempelhof to remain open.

The issue of whether to keep Tempelhof open has become a significant cause of division in German politics, with the Social Democrats (SPD) viewing Tempelhof as an "anachronism" that needs to be closed on environmental, safety and economic grounds, and - on the other side of the argument - the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU), led by Germany's chancellor Angela Merkel, who say the airport is a vital "symbol" of the city's and nation's history that should be preserved.

A poll in the populist German newspaper Bild revealed that 65% of Berliners want keep Tempelhof open - a finding that has spurred campaigners on.
Tempelhof Airport History

Berlin Tempelhof Airport has a rich history that began in 1927. The 1,200 metre-long airport building, shaped in a crescent, includes a unique caopy designed to allow aircraft to be pulled out of the rain, and the terminal's roof includes a viewing platform that is said to be able to hold 100,000 people. Renowned British architect Sir Norman Foster has in the past described the building as the "mother of airports".

During the Soviet Union's 11-month blockade of road, rail and river transport into Berlin from June 1948 to May 1949, Tempelhof became the only safe passage into the city. America and British aircraft famously flew 1.5 million metric tonnes of supplies into Tempelhof, with aircraft operating into the airport continously, taking off and landing at 90-second intervals.

In the Cold War years, Tempelhof became the only safe passage to West Berlin from the communist East.

Due to the increasing size of modern passenger airliners, which are unable to operate into Tempelhof, the famous airport has suffered, with the other two Berlin airports at Schonefeld and Tegel taking the lion's share of services into the capital. Passenger numbers declined to just 350,000 in 2007 (compared to 6.3 million at Schonefeld, and 13.4 million at Tegel).

Despite the airport becoming increasingly popular as a hub for private jet operators - due to the airport's proximity to the centre of Berlin - the declining traffic, together with the airport's age and rising operating costs, led authorities to make the closure decision.
"Save Tempelhof Airport" Campaign

The "Save Tempelhof Airport" campaign which was set up in response to December's closure decision has attracted great interest, with Berliners and business community alike supporting the CDU's efforts to keep the airport open.

Merkel, CDU leader and Germany's chancellor, said: "The continued operation of Tempelhof isn't just significant to the economy and to jobs. To many people and to me personally, this airport, with the airlift, is a symbol of the city's history".

These are sentiments echoed by local residents who remember the Berlin Airlift days. Mercedes Wild agreed with Merkel, saying: "It's quite emotional. The airport is a symbol of freedom". Peter Krzywkowski added: "I want Tempelhof to remain open as a memorial to the history of our connection in West Berlin to the Allied forces - that should always remain with us".

Such emotions and historical attachments are not shared by the SPD politicians, who were behind the decision to close Tempelhof.

Berlin's SPD mayor, Klaus Wowereit, has said that if Berlin wants to be able to compete economically with other German and European cities, then it simply needs the benefits which he says creating a major hub like BBI will bring. He said bluntly: "Our future is in BBI".

The SPD says that after closure it will transform Tempelhof into a multiple-use site, hosting public space and parks, apartments and business properties. The listed airport building is due to be used for cultural events and filming.

This economic argument has not been supported by campaigners, who say Tempelhof could easily complement BBI.

Berlin's IHK Chamber of Commerce says: "Air traffic is growing rapidly...Tempelhof will relieve BBI of smaller business aviation planes and allow the new airport to grow in an unhampered way".

Malte Pereira, from campaign group ICAT, compared Tempelhof to London City Airport and said: "Tempelhof is a great location. It's attractive to business travellers, with the government and business districts so nearby. Tempelhof can bring economic power and jobs to this city".

The SPD is unmoved, pointing to the fact that Sunday's referendum will not be binding for the government. It added that any reviews of Tempelhof's future would lead to lengthy legal and judicial processes, which would delay BBI.

Source - Airport International's European Correspondent

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