Ramble On

Monday, November 26, 2012

Whatever Happened to Flughafen Tempelhof - Part 2

Since I started the Hawksbill Cabin blog, I’ve written about Tempelhof Central Airport (we called it TCA or Tempelhof for short, in German it was Flughafen Tempelhof) in Berlin a few times – including in my last blog post.  Looking back over the old posts, I’ve included some notes about the airport itself – I can never look at the aerial view of it without seeing the image of the eagle that it was designed to symbolize – along with some fond memories of the time that I lived there from 1981 to 1986. 

I intend for my next post to be about the current plans for the redevelopment of the old airport, so I have a nostalgic purpose for the post today, inspired by the Google Earth photo I put up in my last post and repeat here today.  There are minor changes – for today’s post I’ve traced a favorite running route (in orange) out along the perimeter, and designated some of the areas that I mention in the post.

I suppose I could measure the distance on this route if I took the time, but as I recall, this route would be something in the neighborhood of seven miles or so round trip, very flat for the most part.  Most of my runs were about four miles or so, out and back.  That distance would take you past the end of the building, along a little road there that led to the Candy Bomber, softball fields, and picnic grounds.  Then you made a sharp left at the end of a brick wall, and ran past some technical buildings related to the airport operation, and finally to a place where a neighborhood bordered the airfield.

Along part of this route, there were some old fuel storage bunkers where I would cut off of the road and get in some small hills – Berlin’s terrain is very flat and I was always desperate for the variation in the routine.  The first time I did this I was listening to my JVC “Walkman-style” cassette player with Talking Heads More Songs About Buildings and Food playing.  The song Big Country is forever linked in my memory to looking across the brick wall at the neighboring cemetery garden, assuming that is what it was, and hoping that I wasn’t visible enough to disturb anyone in there. 

Finally, further along the fence, there was an old neighborhood that looked down into the airfield, where the edge of the base gave a stark impression.  Not just the contrast of the military lifestyle that defined the inside of the fence with the urban vibrancy that was outside – there was more to it, because you knew that during the Berlin Airlift that impossible frequency of planes coming in to land or taking off here put those buildings in constant danger of a collision.

On longer runs, getting out past the apartments took you to the end of the other runway.  Outside the fence you could see tower lights that guided the planes to the runway, and you definitely had the feeling of being in right the middle of where the airlift had happened.  Those areas were strewn with small rubble piles and it was easy to imagine that this was the scene for those famous Candy Bomber scenes.

This was also the runway where those Polish Lot hijacks from the early 1980’s came in to land – more about these in a future post, because I’ll need to do some research to refresh my memory. 

Past the runway, there was a curve off to the right, and then you came to a couple of surprises: a barn where an enterprising farmer had arranged to keep sheep on the airfield property, and then some vegetable plots that many Air Force folks kept up.  I ran into a friend named Steve Hulsey there a few times, driving his VW microbus around out there to pick up some tomatoes – and the porta-john was a welcome relief on my longer runs more than once. The sheep were pretty famous among my friends, but I doubt many of them ever saw the piles of hay and manure that I encountered out here on my runs!

Right in this area, on the other side of the fence there were some soccer fields, and in the afternoon sometimes I would here the kids playing there.  I enjoyed the juxtaposition of those fields with the quiet gardens and old metal fabrication plants on our side of the fence, with all kinds of scrap and industrial flotsam and jetsam scattered around in overgrown patches of grass.

Finally, at the backside of the airfield, the southern limits, there was a long gentle curve with a view back towards the airport building.  Outside the fence, there was an industrial-scaled Bahlesen bakery where the smell of Prinzen-Rollen cookies would waft over me during my run – I still love these cookies and get a pleasant flashback when I buy them.  Then, soon enough, you’d reach the end of the perimeter road where it intersected with the other end of the runway.  Since the road ended here, I would always turn back.

Someone once told me – this was probably Steve Hulsey, who’d spent most of his adult life assigned there – that earlier generations of Air Force service people assigned to Tempelhof would have found an outdoor pool available.  There wasn’t a trace of it in my day, and I found it hard to believe that something like that was ever there.  But this was my turn-around point on the longer runs – as I prepared for the 1983 Berlin Marathon, I was running this route two or three times a week, sometimes cobbling on another two or three miles to get a ten-miler in.

So today’s post is a set-up for the one I intend to write next, about the proposed redevelopment of the old airfield.  Certainly I feel some nostalgia for the place I lived so long, but times have changed and that building and surrounding acreage is an incredible asset for the people of Berlin.  I hope to visit it a few more times and watch its transformation.

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