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Inside Berlin’s Tempelhof Airport


by Linnea Dozier



Welcome to Berlin’s Tempelhof Airport, a place where history, architecture, and recreational activities converge. This iconic airport, with its vast open space and distinctive terminal building, has a rich and fascinating past that has shaped not only the city itself, but also the world at large. Today, Tempelhof Airport stands as a testament to the resilience and adaptability of Berliners and serves as a vibrant public park for locals and tourists alike.


Stepping onto the grounds of Tempelhof Airport, one can’t help but feel a sense of awe and wonder. The sheer size of the airport, boasting a sprawling area of over 300 hectares, is enough to leave visitors awe-struck. Originally built in the 1920s, Tempelhof Airport quickly became an architectural marvel, renowned for its unique terminal design and its role in shaping the future of aviation.


But Tempelhof Airport is not just a monumental structure; it is also a witness to tumultuous times in history. From its operation during World War II to its significance in the Cold War era, Tempelhof Airport has played a pivotal role in shaping the course of events. Today, it stands as a symbol of freedom and resilience, providing visitors with a glimpse into the city’s storied past.


Since its closure as an active airport in 2008, Tempelhof Airport has undergone a remarkable transformation. Rather than being left abandoned or demolished, the city authorities decided to repurpose it as a public park, giving locals and visitors a unique urban green space to enjoy. The transformation into Tempelhof Park has breathed new life into the airport, offering a range of activities and attractions for people of all ages.


In this article, we will delve into the history of Tempelhof Airport, explore its stunning architecture, examine its role during World War II and the Cold War era, and delve into the controversies and debates surrounding its transformation into a public park. So fasten your seatbelts and get ready for a journey through the captivating world of Tempelhof Airport.


History of Tempelhof Airport

The history of Tempelhof Airport is intertwined with the development of aviation and the city of Berlin itself. Construction of the airport began in 1923, and it was officially opened for operations in 1927. Designed by Ernst Sagebiel, Tempelhof Airport quickly gained acclaim for its groundbreaking architecture and cutting-edge facilities.


During the early years, Tempelhof Airport served as the main commercial airport for Berlin, connecting the city to destinations across Europe and beyond. It became a hub for international travel, with airlines such as Lufthansa operating regular flights from the airport.


However, Tempelhof Airport’s significance went far beyond commercial aviation. In the 1930s, Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime recognized the airport’s potential as a propaganda tool and a symbol of German strength. The regime embarked on an ambitious expansion project, transforming Tempelhof into the largest airport in the world at the time.


During World War II, Tempelhof Airport played a crucial role as a military airbase and a site for aircraft production. It served as a strategic hub for the German Luftwaffe and was targeted by Allied forces during the bombing raids. Despite the destruction caused by the war, Tempelhof Airport managed to survive and was quickly reconstructed after the end of the conflict.


Following the war, Tempelhof Airport found itself in a city divided by the Iron Curtain. During the Cold War era, the airport played an instrumental role in the Berlin Airlift, an operation that aimed to supply West Berlin with essential goods during the Soviet blockade. In a remarkable display of solidarity, Allied forces carried out thousands of flights to Tempelhof Airport, ensuring the survival of the city’s residents.


Throughout the 20th century, Tempelhof Airport continued to evolve and adapt to the changing needs of aviation. From the rise of jet travel to the implementation of new technologies, the airport embraced innovation and continued to serve as a vital transportation hub in Berlin.


However, with the opening of Berlin Brandenburg Airport in 2020, Tempelhof Airport ceased its operations as a commercial airport. The decision was made to repurpose the airport and transform it into a public park, opening up new opportunities for the citizens of Berlin and visitors from around the world to experience this historic site up close.


Today, Tempelhof Airport stands as a testament to the resilience and determination of the people of Berlin. Its rich history, stunning architecture, and significance in world events make it a must-visit destination for anyone seeking to delve into the past while enjoying the recreational activities offered at Tempelhof Park.


Architecture of Tempelhof Airport

The architecture of Tempelhof Airport is a marvel in itself, combining functional design with elements of grandeur and modernity. Designed by Ernst Sagebiel in the 1920s, the airport’s architecture reflects the spirit of the time and the ambition to create a symbol of technological progress and national pride.


One of the most distinctive features of Tempelhof Airport is its terminal building, which is a prime example of the monumental architectural style prevalent during the Nazi era. The terminal is characterized by its vast size and imposing facade, evoking a sense of grandeur and power. The building spans over a kilometer in length and boasts a monumental entrance hall, adorned with marble and intricate decorative elements.


The design of the terminal building is highly functional, with a layout that facilitates efficient passenger flow. The long, narrow shape of the building allowed for quick and convenient access to the waiting areas and departure gates. The large central hall served as the heart of the airport, with ticket counters, baggage handling facilities, and a variety of amenities for passengers.


Another striking feature of Tempelhof Airport is its iconic curved roof, which was a groundbreaking architectural innovation at the time. The roof, made of lightweight steel trusses covered with a translucent material, provided ample natural light to the terminal building. This not only created a welcoming and airy atmosphere for travelers but also contributed to the overall energy efficiency of the airport.


The architecture of Tempelhof Airport also extends beyond its main terminal building. The airport complex includes several hangars, each with its own unique design and purpose. These hangars were used for aircraft maintenance and storage during the airport’s active years.


One of the standout features of Tempelhof Airport’s architecture is the monumental facade, which showcases the influence of neoclassical and art deco styles. The facade is adorned with intricate sculptures, reliefs, and ornamental elements, depicting heroic figures, flying aircraft, and symbols of aviation. These decorative elements not only added to the aesthetic appeal of the airport but also conveyed the message of German strength and technological advancement.


Tempelhof Airport’s architecture is a testament to the innovative spirit of the time and the ambition to create a grand and functional structure that embodies the ideals of modernity and progress. Today, visitors can marvel at the airport’s architectural splendor while exploring the vast public park that surrounds it, providing a unique blend of history, beauty, and recreational activities.


Operation during World War II

During World War II, Tempelhof Airport played a significant role as a strategic military base and was at the center of major operations conducted by the German Luftwaffe. The airport’s location in Berlin made it an ideal hub for air transportation, which the Nazi regime exploited to its advantage.


At the outbreak of the war, Tempelhof Airport was transformed into a military airbase, equipped with hangars, workshops, and runways to support the operations of the Luftwaffe. The airport became a crucial link in the German air defense system, allowing for the rapid deployment of fighter planes and bomber squadrons.


One of the key operations conducted from Tempelhof Airport during the war was the defense of Berlin against Allied bombing raids. The airport housed fighter squadrons that were tasked with intercepting enemy aircraft and protecting the city. However, despite their efforts, the airport and the city of Berlin were heavily targeted by Allied forces, leading to extensive damage and casualties.


In addition to its role in defense, Tempelhof Airport also played a part in aircraft production during the war. Parts of the airport were converted into factories where military aircraft, such as the Focke-Wulf Fw 190, were manufactured. The airport’s vast hangars provided ample space for assembly lines and production facilities.


The importance of Tempelhof Airport during World War II is perhaps best exemplified by its proximity to the Tempelhof Field, which served as a landing strip for the transport aircraft used in the Berlin Airlift. In an unprecedented humanitarian operation, Allied forces flew supplies into West Berlin during the Soviet blockade, ensuring the survival of the city’s residents. Tempelhof Airport became the main receiving point for these flights, with cargo being unloaded and distributed to the people of Berlin.


Despite the significant damage suffered during the war, Tempelhof Airport managed to survive and was quickly repaired and restored. It continued to function as a military airbase until the end of the war and played a part in the evacuation of German civilians and military personnel during the final stages of the conflict.


The operation of Tempelhof Airport during World War II is a testament to its strategic importance and the resilience of the people involved. Today, visitors can learn about this pivotal period in history while exploring the grounds of Tempelhof Park, a testament to the enduring spirit of the people of Berlin.


Post-war Utilization and Cold War Era

After World War II, Tempelhof Airport found itself in a divided city, with West Berlin under the control of the Allied powers and East Berlin under Soviet influence. Despite the challenges posed by the Cold War era, the airport continued to serve important functions and played a significant role in the city’s history.


Following the war, Tempelhof Airport was primarily utilized for military purposes. It served as a base for the United States Air Force during the Allied occupation of West Berlin. The airport played a critical role in the defense of the city, with American military aircraft stationed there to provide support and surveillance.


The geopolitical tensions of the Cold War era further increased Tempelhof Airport’s strategic significance. As a location deeply entrenched in East Germany, the airport became a symbol of the divided city and the ideological standoff between the East and the West. The Berlin Wall, constructed in 1961, physically divided Berlin, but Tempelhof Airport remained in West Berlin, making it a focal point of the Cold War conflict.


Tempelhof Airport played an instrumental role in the Berlin Airlift, a major operation undertaken by the Allies in response to the Soviet blockade of West Berlin. From 1948 to 1949, Allied forces carried out massive airlifts to supply food, fuel, and other essential supplies to the isolated city. Tempelhof Airport served as the main hub for these flights, receiving and distributing the much-needed supplies to the people of West Berlin.


During this critical period, Tempelhof Airport became a symbol of Western solidarity and defiance against Soviet aggression. The airport’s vast runways witnessed the arrival of hundreds of flights each day, ensuring the survival of the city’s residents and demonstrating the determination of the Allied forces.


Tempelhof Airport continued to serve as a military hub for the United States Air Force and other NATO allies. It played a role in operations such as aerial surveillance and contributed to the overall defense strategy against potential aggressions from the East. The airport’s strategic location and infrastructure made it an essential element of NATO’s presence in West Berlin.


As the Cold War progressed, the division between East and West Berlin became increasingly fortified. Tempelhof Airport stood as a powerful symbol of freedom and resilience, a reminder of the ideological struggle that permeated the city during this tumultuous era. Its existence served as a constant reminder of the divided nature of Berlin and the determination of its citizens to fight for their freedom.


In the years leading up to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Tempelhof Airport remained an important military base. However, the political landscape was rapidly changing, and with the reunification of East and West Germany in 1990, the airport’s role shifted dramatically.


The end of the Cold War brought about a new era for Tempelhof Airport, as the city authorities began to envision its transformation into a public space that could symbolize unity and commemorate the struggles of the past. This vision ultimately led to the closure of the airport as an active airfield and its subsequent transformation into Tempelhof Park, offering a unique blend of history, recreation, and remembrance.


The post-war utilization of Tempelhof Airport and its role in the Cold War era highlight the airport’s historical significance and its enduring presence as a symbol of resilience and unity. Today, visitors can explore the remnants of this tumultuous period while enjoying the vast recreational offerings that Tempelhof Park provides in the heart of Berlin.


Transformation into Public Park

After its closure as an active airport in 2008, Tempelhof Airport underwent a remarkable transformation, emerging as one of Berlin’s most beloved public parks. The decision to repurpose the airport was met with mixed reactions, but it has ultimately become a cherished space that reflects the city’s commitment to preserving its history and providing vibrant green spaces for its residents.


The transformation of Tempelhof Airport into Tempelhof Park was a monumental undertaking. The airport’s vast runways and open spaces provided a blank canvas for the city authorities to create a unique urban park that would cater to diverse recreational activities and attract visitors from all walks of life.


The layout of Tempelhof Park is designed to preserve the airport’s historical significance while incorporating elements of a modern urban park. The iconic terminal building, with its impressive facade and vast halls, has been preserved and repurposed as event spaces, museums, and community hubs. Visitors can now walk through the once-bustling departure halls, envisioning the comings and goings of travelers from around the world.


One of the defining features of Tempelhof Park is its open space, offering a respite from the bustling city. The airport’s runways have been transformed into sprawling green fields that welcome picnickers, runners, and cyclists. The wide expanse is perfect for outdoor activities and provides ample space for families and friends to gather and enjoy the outdoors.


In addition to the green spaces, Tempelhof Park also features various recreational facilities. Visitors can find designated areas for sports such as football, volleyball, and basketball. There are also designated spaces for skateboarding and rollerblading, attracting enthusiasts from across the city. Children can delight in the playgrounds and adventure areas scattered throughout the park, providing ample opportunities for fun and exploration.


Tempelhof Park is not just a place for recreational activities, but also a venue for cultural events and community engagement. The airport’s hangars have been repurposed into venues for art exhibitions, music concerts, and festivals, attracting artists and performers from around the world to showcase their talents in this unique setting.


The transformation of Tempelhof Airport into a public park has not been without controversy. Some argued that the airport’s historical significance and architectural beauty should have been preserved in its entirety, while others questioned the cost and feasibility of the project. However, the overall response to Tempelhof Park has been overwhelmingly positive, with both locals and tourists appreciating the opportunity to explore the park’s historical past and enjoy the recreational amenities it offers.


Tempelhof Park has become a cherished oasis in the heart of Berlin, a place where history, nature, and community come together. It stands as a testament to the city’s commitment to sustainability, preservation, and the well-being of its residents. Whether it’s a leisurely stroll, a picnic with friends, or attending a cultural event, Tempelhof Park offers something for everyone, inviting all to enjoy the vibrant and inviting atmosphere of this transformed historic site.


Activities and Attractions at Tempelhof Park

Tempelhof Park offers a wide range of activities and attractions for visitors of all ages and interests. From recreational sports to cultural events, the park provides a dynamic and vibrant environment that invites exploration and enjoyment.


One of the most popular activities at Tempelhof Park is cycling. The vast expanse of the former airport runways offers ample space for cyclists to ride freely and enjoy the open air. The park has designated bike lanes and rental shops, making it easy for visitors to hop on a bike and explore the expansive grounds at their own pace.


For those who prefer a more leisurely pace, walking or running along the runways is a great way to soak in the atmosphere and admire the park’s unique surroundings. The wide-open spaces and picturesque views create the perfect backdrop for a refreshing stroll or a jog.


Sports enthusiasts will find plenty of opportunities to engage in their favorite activities at Tempelhof Park. The park features designated areas for football, volleyball, basketball, and other team sports. Whether it’s a casual game with friends or organized tournaments, the park caters to a variety of sporting interests.


Tempelhof Park is also a haven for skateboarders and rollerbladers. The wide, smooth runways and open spaces provide an ideal environment for freestyle tricks and skating sessions. The skate park within the park offers ramps, rails, and ramps for skaters of all skill levels to showcase their moves.


The park’s hangars have been repurposed into cultural and event spaces, hosting a wide range of exhibitions, art installations, music concerts, and festivals throughout the year. From contemporary art exhibitions to live music performances, the hangars provide a unique backdrop for cultural experiences and entertainment.


Tempelhof Park also boasts numerous playgrounds and adventure areas for children to enjoy. These designated spaces offer a variety of engaging and fun activities, such as climbing structures, swings, slides, and sandboxes. Families can spend quality time together while children explore and interact in a safe and stimulating environment.


For those seeking a peaceful escape, the park offers several designated picnic areas where visitors can relax and enjoy a meal surrounded by greenery. The vast open spaces provide plenty of room for families and friends to gather, spread out a blanket, and enjoy a leisurely picnic.


In addition to these activities, Tempelhof Park hosts various community events and festivals throughout the year. From food markets to open-air film screenings, these events bring together locals and visitors, fostering a sense of community and celebration.


Tempelhof Park provides something for everyone, whether it’s an active day of cycling and sports, a cultural experience in one of the hangars, or a peaceful picnic with loved ones. The park’s diverse offerings and serene setting make it a beloved destination for Berliners and tourists alike.


Controversies and Debates Surrounding Tempelhof Airport

The transformation of Tempelhof Airport into a public park has not been without controversy and debates. The repurposing of such a significant historical site sparked discussions regarding the preservation of its architectural heritage, the cost of the project, and the best use of the space.


One of the main points of contention surrounding Tempelhof Airport’s transformation was the preservation of its architectural significance. Critics argued that the grandeur and historical value of the terminal building were compromised by the repurposing efforts. Some believed that the entire airport should have been preserved as a historical site, rather than being transformed into a park with recreational amenities.


The cost of the transformation project also raised eyebrows among skeptics. The substantial investments required to convert the airport into a public park led to debates about the financial viability and the allocation of resources. Some questioned whether the funds could have been better used for other initiatives, such as social programs or infrastructure improvements.


Another point of contention was the use of the space itself. While the transformation of Tempelhof Airport into a public park has been widely celebrated, there were those who argued that the area should have been repurposed for other purposes, such as residential or commercial developments. The demand for housing in Berlin, for example, is significant, and some believed that utilizing the space for residential purposes would have been a more practical choice.


Environmental concerns were also raised during the transformation process. Critics argued that the vast open spaces of the former runways could have been used for sustainable initiatives like urban agriculture or renewable energy projects. These arguments focused on the potential missed opportunities for creating a greener and more environmentally friendly space within the city.


Additionally, debates centered around the accessibility and inclusivity of the park. While Tempelhof Park attracts numerous visitors and offers a range of recreational activities, some expressed concerns about the park’s accessibility for people with disabilities or limited mobility. The park’s infrastructure and facilities have since undergone improvements to address these concerns, but the issue of inclusivity remains a topic for ongoing discussions.


Despite the controversies and debates, Tempelhof Park has emerged as a cherished public space that bridges history, recreation, and community engagement. While differing opinions on the airport’s transformation persist, the park continues to serve as a testament to Berlin’s commitment to preserving its past, providing green spaces, and offering diverse activities for its residents and visitors.



Tempelhof Airport, now transformed into Tempelhof Park, stands as a testament to the rich history and resilience of Berlin. From its iconic architecture to its role in significant world events, the airport has left an indelible mark on the city and its people. The decision to repurpose the airport into a public park was met with controversy and debates, but it has ultimately provided a unique space that combines history, recreation, and community engagement.


As visitors step onto the grounds of Tempelhof Park, they are greeted by the awe-inspiring terminal building, a reminder of the airport’s grandeur and architectural significance. The wide-open spaces, once runways, now offer an expansive green landscape where visitors can cycle, walk, run, and engage in various sports activities. The park has become a sanctuary for skateboarders and rollerbladers, offering them a dedicated area to showcase their skills.


The park’s hangars, repurposed into cultural and event spaces, host a multitude of exhibitions, concerts, and festivals, enriching the cultural fabric of the city. The playgrounds and adventure areas provide children with opportunities for play and exploration, fostering a sense of community and joy.


While controversies and debates surrounded the transformation of Tempelhof Airport, the park’s existence is a testament to Berlin’s commitment to preserving its history while providing its residents and visitors with vibrant green spaces. The park offers a diverse range of activities and attractions, catering to the interests of individuals and families alike.


Tempelhof Park has become more than just a public space – it has become a symbol of unity and resilience, encapsulating the spirit of Berliners. It serves as a gathering place where people from all walks of life can come together to enjoy the outdoors, celebrate culture, and connect with one another.


As the years pass, Tempelhof Park will continue to evolve, reflecting the changing needs and desires of its visitors. The controversies and debates that surround its transformation serve as a reminder of the complex nature of urban planning and the diverse perspectives that shape public spaces.


Tempelhof Airport’s legacy lives on in Tempelhof Park, offering locals and tourists a unique experience that blends history, recreation, and community engagement. It stands as a testament to the enduring spirit of Berlin – a city that continues to reinvent itself while honoring its past.