Ramble On

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Tempelhof Airport's Cultural History - Part 4

Here's a vintage photo of Tempelhof (I don't remember where I obtained it, unfortunately).  This is from the post-War era, as the Nazi eagle statue has been removed from the roof and replaced with a radar antenna.  

The new airport was delivered in the mid-1920’s, and air traffic in Berlin and around the world continued to grow.  When Hitler came to power in January 1933 and proposed that Berlin should become Germania, the new capital of Europe – Tempelhof, as the capital city’s airport, would have a large role in the futuresque city, although that National Socialist vision of the future never came to pass.

Heeb’s thesis outlines the development of the architecture of the updated airport, its placement in the city, and some of the new cultural context that the Nazi architects capitalized on during its design.  She notes that Albert Speer played a relatively minor role in the design of Tempelhof, contributing suggestions to the actual architect, which was Ernst Sagebiel.  The plan for the district including the airport shows that what is now Platz der Luftbrucke was originally envisioned as part of a large circle, with the airport located to the southeast.  The openings in the smaller buildings that flank the terminal building were oriented towards the monument a short distance away at the top of the hill in Kruezberg Park. 

A picture of the terminal building I took during a visit in 1995.
Heeb's document also has a photo inside the hangar areas showing the large cantilevered roofs.  She has a structural drawing to accompany the photograph – but as I look at them I am reminded that they were designed to potentially hold bleachers that overlooked the airfield, where public events could someday be held.  The hangars were designed to be boarding areas but the bleachers on top of them were never built.

The airfield went into service between 1938 and 1939; while some portions were never finished, it wasn’t long before the advent of World War II caused all construction to start.  Not long after that, parts of the airfield were used to retrofit civilian aircraft to military use.  Heeb cites a statistic that 1,960 Junkers 87 aircraft were assembled and tested here from 1941 to 1944, employing up to 5,000 workers.  There’s a photo of airplanes being assembled in Hangar 4.

Although air traffic continued to grow in Berlin, by 1940 the main air transport functions for the city were moved away from Tempelhof to Rangsdorf so that the building could be used for these industrial functions.  Tempelhof itself became a military target, with many of the old buildings destroyed by allied bombing, and the building with the surrounding “Germania” complex were never completed as envisioned by the Nazi planners.

From my own perspective, this brief history added some insight for me.  I certainly remember those hangars – many administrative functions were maintained in those old parts of the building when I was stationed at Tempelhof in the 1980’s.  The hangars were also used for women’s dormitories – many of the large rooms there - former offices - housed two women each. 

My friend's book, which can be found
on Amazon.
These days, any mention of the roofs of the hangars calls to mind the novel my friend Dale Lindemann wrote, “Last Flight from Tempelhof,” which I’ve mentioned on the blog before.  His geopolitical thriller is centered on the airport and environs in a near future time, when the airport has been repurposed as an amusement park and the stadium seating finally added to the rooftop there.

Finally, I remember walking through the hangars one day only to see an Antonov 2 biplane down there, with a crudely painted red star on the empennage.  It had been used by a couple of Polish nationals to flee the socialist government, flown in low to avoid radar detection and landed at Tempelhof, where the pilot and passengers sought asylum in the West.  

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