Ramble On

Monday, March 11, 2013

Tempelhof Airport’s Cultural History – Part Two

Here's a photo of the airside of Tempelhof Airport, now a park, taken in 2012.
Head Building East, which I mentioned in the previous post, can be seen at
the right, near the radome.

As I begin this second post about the cultural history of Tempelhof Airport, I should make a note of reference to the situation at the airport today.  The grounds of the airport have been designated as a public park.  I summarized the evolution of this park in a series of posts last November (click on the “Berlin-Tempelhof” label below for a link to those and other past posts) – the goals of the park include the desire to establish a new cultural resource that focuses on six objectives:

·                     Stage for the new
·                     Clean future technologies
·                     Knowledge and learning
·                     Sports and health
·                     Dialog of religions
·                     Neighborhood integration

A description of these can be found at the Tempelhof Park website, which is linked at the end of this post.  It will be useful to come back to these six at the end of this series, which is focused on Christine Heeb’s thesis A multifaceted monument – the complex heritage of Tempelhof Central Airport.

I think that many of my fellow USAF veterans who were stationed at the airfield following World War II and on through the Cold War are aware that the history of the Tempelhof district in Berlin dates to the Templars, an order of military knights during the Middle Ages.  Heeb’s document places the grounds of the airport at the northern boundary of the Templar estate, which was founded in 1247.  The purpose of the district was to serve as a “commander’s court,” a sort of administrative and martial function.

That military heritage continued into the era of the Prussian kings and German emperors.  Farms were prevalent in the area, but the kings and emperors would use the open ground for military displays, parades, and other public functions.  Eventually the land was acquired from the farmers, and this public use of the area continued through most of the 1800’s, right up until the dawn of aviation.

Heeb’s thesis includes a fascinating citation of Zeppelin flights at the airport beginning in the late 1880’s, including a photograph of the Graf Zeppelin landing at the airfield in front of 300,000 spectators in 1909.  Also in 1909, Orville Wright made an appearance at Tempelhof, demonstrating the Wright Brothers’ aircraft and piloting skills, this time in front of a crowd of 150,000 people.  The result of the demonstration was the establishment of a firm in Germany to build airplanes, a collaboration between Wright and some industrialists – the firm was called Flugmaschine Wright GmbH, and it started with an order for 20 aircraft.

Despite all of these connections with the nascent aviation industry, Tempelhof was not the first airport in Berlin – that happened at Johannisthal (there is an Wikipedia article, for further reference), which was begun in 1908.  This airfield was used throughout World War I, until Tempelhof’s development as an airfield started in the 1920’s.

And that is where I will pick up this history tomorrow.

A link to the modern day Tempelhof Park can be found here:  http://www.tempelhoferfreiheit.de/en/
Christine Heeb’s thesis can be found here:

No comments: