Summer-time and no queues at the check-in counter at the airport. Actually the check-in area is almost empty and there are only a handful of counters, some of them bearing the names of exotic airlines such as Bourbon Air. The single baggage carousel for arriving passengers stands still because nobody has arrived at Tempelhof Airport in Berlin since 2008 when operations ceased. Nowadays, the terminal building – or parts thereof – can be rented for events such as upmarket trade shows.
We have joined a tour of the airport terminal, which is still one of the world's largest buildings, owing to the megalomania of Nazi Germany and the monumental style of its chief town planner Albert Speer. Construction of the terminal was begun in 1934, when the airport itself had already been in use for over 10 years, with first just a shed and then a normal-sized building for a terminal. The new building was also meant to function as a stadium for the popular flight shows: The plan was to have seating areas for 80,000 people on the curved roof!
We take a lift up to the roof, which offers a great view over the airfield, now used as a recreation area. There are staircase towers leading up to the roof, cleverly planned with separate stairs for upwards and downwards movement, but the seats themselves were never installed as the war disrupted the highflying plans.
Meanwhile, there were some other uses of the building, below it rather than on top. We take the elevator down to the basement and explore windowless cellars: Cartoons adorn the whitewashed walls, along with one line of poetry per wall. For us, the poems by Wilhelm Busch seem mildly amusing at best, but at the time it was felt they would cheer up the people huddling together in the air raid shelters. Not only the flight shows, but a number of other ideas also never took off: In fact, most of the airport soon became an airplane factory, and after the war the Americans took over and used a huge chunk of the building as a military base. They had party rooms, bowling alleys, mess halls, a basketball court…
The airport's great time came in 1948-49 during the Berlin Blockade, when all the supplies for West Berlin were airlifted into the city, much of it by way of Tempelhof Airport. A huge painting commemorates the event, and Gail Halvorsen, the famous pilot who started throwing off extra chocolate and sweets for Berlin's kids. The parachuted packages made the Allied planes ("candy bombers") famous and popular.
The tour of the Tempelhof Airport building takes two hours, costs 13 Euro and is absolutely worth it. For times and more details see: www.thf-berlin.de/flughafengebaeude.