The Tempelhof airport (THF) at Berlin was one of the earliest public airports at Germany operating between 1923 and 2008. During this time it was continuously extended and was ahead of its time: with hotels, restaurants and a subway stop directly next to it. Today it is replaced by the new Berlin airport (BER), the historic building is used for offices and the former airfield is now a vast park known as the Tempelhofer Feld, larger than the country San Marino. Additionally you can book guided tours at the former airport to experience the special architecture.
It is easy to see who designed the current building: architect Ernst Sagebiel created it suiting to the interests of the Nazi regime. A building made to impress, to make you feel small. During the war it was used to build aircrafts using forced labor and it was planned to be destroyed – Hitler wanted to leave nothing than burned soil when his defeat became obvious. German soldiers ignored the order and US bombers didn’t target it as the knew that they wanted to use it later. That is why this special building still exists and can be explored today.
During the German occupation all four allies had ‘their’ airports in Germany: Schönefeld was used by the Russians, Tegel by the French, Gatow by the British and Tempelhof was the US airbase. During the Berlin-Blockade by the Russians in 1948-1949 Tempelhof was used to establish the Berlin airlift and to provide the city through three air corridors in the direction of Hamburg, Hannover (Bückeburg/Celle) and Frankfurt. A memorial in front of the airport (the so-called Hungerkralle) and a mural within the main building remind of these times.
If you’re taking one of the tours through the airport you can see the main hall pretty much unchanged since 2008. Flying was really different back in these days without extensive security checks and with very short ways to the planes. Underneath the airport numerous air raid shelters exist, decorated with quotes and images by famous writer Wilhelm Busch (Max & Moritz) – they were painted to make potentially long waiting times in overcrowded cellars a bit better. The tour continues through the gate to the airfield and its impressive roof built to protect passengers from the weather. From there you can continue to the underground heating systems and the rooms of the US forces – including a bar colored in the typical 1970s orange and an indoor basketball court.
The former Zentralflughafen of Berlin is very much worth a visit – especially if you like architecture and travelling back in history. The visitor center is called CHECK-IN and the closest subway stop is Platz der Luftbrücke of the U6. Directly in front of the airport you can see the head of an eagle: it was once an entire eagle standing on a globe on the roof of the airport. US forces took it with them to the US and only the head returned later. Did you know that Tempelhof airport was used to shoot several films including The Bourne Supremacy, Valkyrie, Bridge of Spies and The Hunger Games?
Platz der Luftbrücke 5