Farewell to a Grand Old Landmark
Templhof will go into that good night sometime in 2006

By Lee Thompson

 

The "mother of all airports," as a noted British architect called Tempelhof, is about to close its runways forever.  It had no peer and no rival, and it is probably not an exaggeration to say that it touched more lives than any other structure of its time.  Alas, while Tempelhof occupies a special place in the hearts of many BKs, younger generations are unfamiliar with it's illustrious past.  And if West Berliners view Tempelhof as a symbol of freedom and are grieved to see it go, East Berliners harbor no such affections.  Time marches on.

 

Conceived as the gateway to Europe by Nazi architect Albert Speer, the mile-long gently curving facade with cantilevered hangars opened its doors in 1941.  Its tiered roof was actually designed as a lofty viewing stand to seat spectators of national extravaganzas, however, the coming of war interrrupted its completion.

 

Even before Speer's upgrades, the field had an illustrious past -- having hosted the likes of Orville Wright in 1909, and having launched Lufthansa in 1926.  The world;s first night-flight for passengers was inaugurated from Berlin to Konigsberg (Kaliningrad today) with a connection to the Konigsberg - Moscow route on May 1, 1926.  The square outside the airport was first named "Platz der Luftbrucke: on June 26, 1931, to commemorate th launch of the Berlin to Munich and Berlin to Konigsberg routes.  (Following an interim name change, it was rededicated as "Platz der Luftbrucke" in 1949 to commemorate the Airlift.)

 

The cavernous facility was used to assemble Stuka dive bombers and Focke Wulf FW 190 fighter planes during World War II.

 

Tempelhof survived the second world war despite being cratered by bombs and damaged by the Red Army after Berlen's fall.  (On several occasions, I used a pocket knife to retrieve copper-clad bullets from the relatively soft stones that cover its walls.)

 

The red Army took Tempelhof on April 24, 1945, in the Battle of Berlin.  Unofficial sources state that German SS troops made a final stand at Tempelhof and the Kaserne that was later named Andrews Barracks.  Andrews fell in a few hours, however, the SS offered stiff resistance in the labyrinthine Tempelhof structure.  After two days of heavy fighting, the Soviet forces flooded the lower two floors, drowning the resisting troops in the process. (This story was making its rounds among Americans inBerlin during the 1950s.)

 

[A conributor to the Field Station Berlin Veterans Groups (FSBVG) website, Rich Bullock, stated that he had verbal confirmation of the capture of Tempelhof from a World War II German General.  In the fall of 1957, Bullock served as the Chief Security Clerk, G2 Berlin.  One of his duties was running background checks on German nationals.  Such a request came when a group of German World War II officers requested access to Andrews Barracks to install a plaque.  Bullock found himself the guest of several German World War I field grade officers in a fashionable residence at Wannsee.  Too old to participate in the regualr forces, these officers had been assigned to home defense in Berlin.  Bullock stated that one of the officers spoke freely of the capture of Berlin by the Soviets as the American and British forces halted their advance a hundred kilometers to the west.  He also confirmed that lower floors of Tempelhof had indeed been flooded by the Soviets.]

 

Conrol of Tempelhof was turned over to US Forces on July 4, 1945.

 

American Overseas Airlines started the first commercial air service after the was with a flight from New York on May 18, 1946.  The Berlin Blockage/Airlift, which lasted from June 26, 1948, to May 12, 1949, brought world fame.  (During the airlift, aircraft landed at intervals as short as 90 seconds.)  On January 5, 1950, Air France launched Berlin flights with a four-engine Languedoc.  [Several BKs were treated to a belly landing by Air France as they lunched in the Tempelhof PX cafeteria one foggy day in 1957-1958 (senior moments preclude giving the actual date).]  On July 10, 1951, the Airlift Memorial was dedicated.  It was erected in honor of the 31 Americans, 40 Britons and five German pilots who lost their lives during the Berlin Blockade.

 

On December 2, 1964, Boeing demonstrated its prototype 727 as the first jet transport plane to land at Tempelhof.  The U.S. Air Force C-5A Galaxy landed as the first wide-body aircraft on September 17, 1971.  The airport was opened to non-allied air traffic on October 3, 1990.  US Air Forces left Tempelhof in June 1993, and the U.S. Army closed its Berlin Army Aviation Detachment at TCA in August 1994.

 

Closure of Tempelhof is attributed to declining services as airlines opt to use more modern facilities in Berlin Schoenefeld International Airport, renamed Berlin Brandenburg Internationals Airport and a state of the art facility, is replacing all major air facilities in the metropolitan area.

 

On the lighter side, it undoubtedly has been Europe's most eccentric airport, boasting its own transvestite revue show, a tank full of edible carp, and sundry other amenities that few of its rivals can match.  The transvestite show is reputedly "a bit like the Moulin Rouge but with men."  Not all that unusual for Berlin!

 

I have purposely omitted anecdotes in this story that involve fellow BKs with the hope that readers will come forth with their own fond memories.  In the meantime, let's lift our biere in honor of the "mother of all airports."  Prosit! LT

 
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