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Business

Berlin's Legendary Tempelhof Airport to Close

Time and financial difficulties have eventually caught up with Berlin's legendary Tempelhof airport. The site of the Berlin Airlift is set to close later this year.

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West Berliners cheer as a plane lands at Tempelhof during the 1948 airlift.

If things go according to plan, the airport, a Nazi jewel that later became a Cold War legend, will close some time in October.

Officials at the administrative authority that runs Berlin's three airports say Tempelhof's declining passenger numbers combined with a need to trim down the number of airports in the capital, sealed its fate.

"The airport has lost money for years, and we don't think that's going to change any time soon," Eberhart Ellie, a spokesman for the authority told DW-WORLD.

Two airports too many

Last year the airport, which is funded by subsidies from city and federal coffers, lost €15 million, said Ellie. The poor economic performance is a death knell for any business in the capital, which is swimming in a €30-billion debt. Add to that a

Flughafen Berlin-Tempelhof

Tempelhof is home to mostly regional airlines

desire by Berlin city officials to turn the now-Schoenefeld airport into the Berlin-Brandenburg International Airport (BBI) by 2010, and Tempelhof's closing was predestined.

"Even if it had survived a few more years, they don't plan on keeping two city airports open after BBI opens in 2010," said Ellie.

The airport's advocates, among them city officials and industry heads, have started a grassroots movement to save Tempelhof. The world's oldest airport is now used primarily by regional and smaller airlines which would be left out in the cold by Tempelhof's closure, said Andreas Peter.

The head of ICAT, an organization made up of Tempelhof supporters, Peter says as passenger numbers continue to climb, Tegel and Schoenefeld will face over-capacity problems. Peter blames the Berlin Airport Authority for not doing enough to try and save it.

Critics: will isn't there

"If (the airport) wasn't constantly dismissed, if the buildings weren't managed so poorly, they might not be losing all the money," Peter told DW-WORLD. "It needs to be marketed better."

Of the three airports, Tempelhof is the largest, most central and most storied. Hitler cast his eye on the building in the 1930s, investing large sums of money to create a fitting airport for his massive capital. Following the end of WWII, the airport became part of the U.S. sector of Berlin, where only a few years later it would find a place in history.

Airlift sealed its place in history


It was in West Berlin's Tempelhof that American planes landed with much-needed supplies after the Soviets sealed off Berlin in 1948. The USSR eventually relented in 1949, and Tempelhof and the "Raisin bombers" that brought food, candy and supplies to thankful Berliners became part of the city's lore.

But since the end of the Cold War, the airport has suffered from increasing competition and decreasing passenger counts. Lufthansa left in the mid-1990s and moved to Tegel airport in the northwest part of the city. Last year, only 400,000 passengers passed through the airport. Elie said 1.5 million were needed for the airport to break even.

A home where the buffalo roam?

Though airlines DBA and Germania said last week they would be willing to transfer their business to Tempelhof from Tegel, Elie has yet to see any indication they really mean it.

"There are no concrete business plans (out there) that look at how Tempelhof can be made financially solvent," said Elie. Architects are already debating what should be done with the estimated 300,000 square meters of space near the city center. One group wants to establish a "Central Park," another company wants to build a golf course. The strangest, and most unlikely, is a plan to create a reserve -- for buffalo.

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