Berlin Day 5: Tempelhof

Sunday, November 22 2009, 11:00 PM

The grand finale of the Berlin trip was a visit to the mother of all modern airports, Berlin-Tempelhof. The building that is now known as the airport was constructed by the Nazis in the 1930s and for two years went on to be the largest building in the world. Since then, it played a key role in a lot of historic events including the second world war, the cold war and the German reunification. It was shut down in 2008 but is now anything but abandoned.

Central part of the main building, seen from the airfield

The building itself looks like a typical Nazi building. Huge but simple, with very clear lines and straight edges. Essentially, it is a long arc which is interrupted by blocky stairways. The total length from one end to the other is 1.2km. "Monumental" is indeed an accurate description.
During the Nazi regime, the airport was never really used for civil air travel, because construction was halted as soon as the war started. After the war, the U.S. Air Force took over the airport to establish an airbase. Only in the 1950s, civil air traffic started when a small terminal was built behind a side entrance. That so called General Aviation Terminal is where we were welcomed by our tour guide and started our tour of 4 hours completely legal and relaxed photography.

General Aviation Terminal
The very small General Aviation Terminal

From there, we first went outside and stood under the impressive canopy style roof. The idea to build just one huge building and have all the different units of an airport (terminals, hangars, counters, waiting rooms, hotels, restaurants, offices, etc) under one roof was a real innovation back then. Having a large area under the self supporting roof free for planes to park was considered a masterstroke of engineering.

Under the impressive roof construction

The baggage handling area was located in the ground floors of the main building and is one of the parts of airports that you normally don't get to see. Of course, we got a quick walkthrough although there wasn't anything unexpected to be seen down there.

Baggage Carousel
Behind the scenes of baggage handling

As mentioned earlier, the Americans used the airport as an airbase. Signs of this are still visible everywhere, one of the most prominent ones being the basketball court which was originally planned as a ballroom.

Basketball Court
Basket Ballroom

One thing that was bad about the tour was that we couldn't go into the main hall because Wella was running some bullshit event there. From what i could see, smell and hear, they were serving tasteless food to douchebags with equally tasteless haircuts while annoying the crap out of everybody in listening distance with poorly faked airport announcements. At least we could get a glimpse of the ceiling construction.

Ceiling construction above the main hall
Ceiling construction above the main hall

Another interesting part of the Tempelhof airport are the bunkers, one of them being the film bunker. It was built by the Nazis to store films. When they realized that they probably wouldn't be able to keep the airport forever, they built a wall in front of the bunker entrance to hide it. When the Russians captured the airport, they found the wall and quickly found the bunker entrance behind it. But since it was also locked by a massive door, they used a large amount of explosives to open it. They didn't know that inside were lots and lots of celluloid films which were immediately set on fire by the explosion. After the fire stopped burning 3 days later, nothing but empty reels was left.

Film Bunker
Traces of fire inside the film bunker

Our tour guide mentioned several times that until today, nobody knows what kind of films had been stored inside the bunker. Of course, i kept my mouth shut (there are certain jokes you can't make in public when you are a German), but it must have obviously been Hitler's personal porn collection.

And now you should check out the Gallery with a lot more photos:


#1 by Matthijs on Nov 22 2009, 23:19
Great pictures and cool blog post! It was a very memorable trip indeed!

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