Ramble On

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Cultural History of Tempelhof Airport - Part 3

Here is a map of the Tempelhof Airport terminal building, circa 1985.  It had
evolved substantially over the years from the early concepts described
in this post.

Today’s post continues with the evolution of Tempelhof Field to the point of its use as an airport.  The city of Berlin was served already by the airport at Johannisthal but it was soon apparent that as air transportation evolved it would be important to integrate a place for it into the urban environment.  Eventually, the predecessor airlines to Lufthansa, the city, the Weimar Republic, and the State of Prussia all came together in the early organization of the airport. 

In 1924, the Berlin Airport Agency was formed jointly by the German government and the city.  In Heeb’s thesis, this is the point where she begins to introduce maps showing the airfield and the proposed building, although by this time they bear little resemblance to the structure that still stands today.  Heeb’s document shows that air passengers ranged from 20,000 to 50,000 annually from 1925 through 1932 – it’s noteworthy that one of the appendixes has a history of air transit at Tempelhof from 1923 through 1973.

These are garden plots on the grounds of the airport in the summer of 2012.
Another interesting point from Heeb is the use of the airfield at the time.  It was comprised of multi-functional spaces that provided zones for organized sports, including a stadium; recreation areas, including gardens between the airfield and railways; a Volkspark with an open air arena; the airport; and other open space.  Highways and roads connecting Neu-Tempelhof, Kruezberg, and Neukolln also began to appear during this time - along with rail transit facilities, notably, today's Paradestrasse station.

Still, the airport was comprised of a bunch of temporary wooden structures, which clearly would not meet the demand of the emerging need for air travel.  Heeb outlines how the first formal construction involved an omni-directional grass field with a diameter of 1,000 meters and a terminal building of 100,000 square meters.  There were taxiways, hangars, and an apron with “Berlin” outlined in large block letters - and a flock of sheep was kept there to help with grounds maintenance. 

This first construction was completed in 1929, right at the time of the financial crisis that lead to the Depression.  The airport had been designed so that expansion would be possible – in fact, by then it was only one seventh the planned finished size. It was clear that it already was falling short of demand, but in the 1930’s it still managed to become the busiest airport in Europe. 

In thinking about the planning that had gone into this phase of Tempelhof’s evolution – TCA I, as Heeb calls it – I have two conclusions.  There were clearly some forward thinking urban planners involved in ensuring the viability of the site and its integration in the city – this was definitely a modern enterprise.  Even while I was stationed at Tempelhof in the early 1980’s the legacy of that planning was still paying off, although most of the air traffic in West Berlin had moved to Tegel at the time.

My second idea about this early development phase is how many of those concepts were still in place on the grounds of TCA despite the intervening development and geopolitical history of the place.  There were still sports fields on the peripheries of the airfield, there were places for garden spots (and some of them were still in use by my Air Force friends), and there was even a flock of sheep that still tended to the grassy field.  My discovery of these areas and uses all dates from the many training runs I did out along the perimeter of the airfield, when I would explore the little side roads and grounds across from the terminal building itself.

Heeb illustrates this section of her thesis with maps and aerial photos of the airfield in development – they are well worth a look.  Now, it had been my plan for this post to continue up to and through the World War II era, but there is enough history in this early development phase to divide the post into two parts.  So we’ll end here for today, and pick up the development of Tempelhof through World War II in the next post.  

In the meantime, here is a link to Christine Heeb’s thesis, which I’ve been referring to during these posts: 

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