Tempelhof: Berlin’s forgotten airport

I find myself standing on a dark street corner in Central Berlin. Despite my heavy jacket, gloves and beanie, I shiver as the cold makes its way through my layers and into my bones. There’s no doubting that winter is on its way. The dark streets are close to deserted even though my watch just ticked past 7am. I’m not the biggest fan of the cold but I’ve been told about an abandoned airport on the outskirts of the city that is open to anyone interested in exploring. This is an opportunity too good to miss!

The Tempelhof airport was built in 1923 and refurbished by the Nazis in the mid-30s. The airport has played a pivotal role in Berlin’s contrasting history. While it wasn’t used as a base for the Nazi’s Luftwaffe, the Americans controlled the airfield during the cold-war era and it was the only way in and out of non-Soviet parts of Berlin during the blockade of 1948. With all land and river access blocked, the airfield served as the only means of transporting food and supplies to the people living in the non-Soviet parts of Berlin.

After the fall of the Berlin wall, the airfield no longer held any strategic advantage and over time the vast area turned into a space where the people of Berlin could meet and socialise. Today, the airfield has been handed over to the people as a dedicated parkland.

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As we make our way towards the airfield, the skies cloud over and the smell of rain fills the air. Not to be discouraged, we continue to walk and eventually find the entry to the park. Upon first impressions, the grey sky and approaching rain don’t lend to any overwhelming sense of beauty or amazement. Adding to this, we walk by one of the saddest looking mini-golf courses I have ever seen. With rusted bits of gnarled metal hanging out every which-way, it is decided that it is best to avoid the potential for a Tetanus infection.

The upside of the cold and rainy weather is that the Tempelhof airfield is deserted apart from myself, my friend and a solitary figure hitting a single golf ball from one part of the park to another. Avoiding his area of the park, and his wayward golf swings, we follow the main runway towards the terminal building. The main terminal still has a Cold war era plane sitting on the tarmac, as if it had only landed there yesterday.

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Photo credit: abandonedberlin.com

The main terminal building resembles an area that appears as though it has been used up until recent times, despite the fact it has been out of service for close to a decade. The check-in counters and baggage carousels sit eerily still as the occasional security guard passes by on his hourly round.

Back out on the field, the rain is falling harder but our interest and curiosity has the better of us so we decide to walk a lap around the entire field to see what other abandoned surprises await. Arriving at the far end of the field, we come across another plane which has been left to battle the elements. This plane is in worse condition with pieces of the wings and undercarriage falling away on the ground below.

By now my socks are wet through to my toes and the rain shows no sign of easing. As a self-proclaimed history nerd and an enthusiast for all things different, the Tempelhof airfield certainly hits the mark when it comes to exploring some of Berlin’s lesser known landmarks. The airfield is only one of many abandoned buildings and public spaces in the city.

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Berlin’s (or the world’s) most uninspiring mini golf course.
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Photo credit: tempelhoferfeld.info
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There certainly isn’t a shortage of open space.
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Coming across this abandoned plane was my favourite part of the day.
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