Today, the iconic Tempelhof International Airport in Berlin – once described by Norman Foster as “the mother of all airports” – will close forever.

Berliner Flughäfen/Archiv)
Tempelhof in 1962 with aircraft on the apron (source: Berliner Flughäfen/Archiv)

Although the airport has been operation in some for over 80 years, it is the absolutely huge scale and striking form of the terminal building, conceived by German architect Ernst Sagebiel between 1934-1936 (based on Albert Speer’s masterplan), that resonates with me. The audacity of the 50+ metre cantilevered roof arc over the terminal and the clarity of the functional diagram are still, despite of any Nazi undertones, to be applauded architecturally. Templehof is the forerunner and exemplar of today’s super-sized terminal buildings designed by Foster, Piano and Rogers et al. Hugh Pearman points out:

(Tempelhof) was designed to last until the year 2000. Somewhat surprisingly, it has. It is the only major airport in the world to have remained virtually unchanged over more than 60 years. What can it teach us? ¹

The airport was iconic for a number of reasons – not the least of which was it’s intended position as an international gateway in Speer’s masterplan of Welthauptstadt Germainia – it was also one of the world’s largest buildings (for a while), in 1927 it became the first airport with an underground railway station, and was the hub during the Berlin Airlift.

Günter Wicker/Photur)
An aerial view of Tempelhof terminal and apron (source: Günter Wicker/Photur)
Berliner Flughäfen/Archiv)
Tempelhof in the urban grain near Platz der Luftbruecke (source: Berliner Flughäfen/Archiv)

The last charter flight will take off from the huge concrete apron at Tempelhof and fly to Mannheim – coincidentally the birthplace of Speer – with another two symbolic flights leaving just before midnight (local time). One of these planes is a Junkers Ju 52 that saw both civilian and WW2 military service, the other a DC 3. Both planes reminiscent of the airport’s pivotal period.

Unfortunately, only ever arriving in Berlin by ICE or bus, I’ll never get to experience a “Tempelhof arrival” but still say “Auf Wiedersehen” and hope a new life can be found for Tempelhof by the Berliners.

Further Reading