Berlin Templehof Airport

Berlin Templehof Airport

The 2010 Michelin Challenge Bibendum is finished, but plans are already in place for the 2011 event headed to Berlin. And just to one-up the organizers in Brazil--where almost 100 percent of vehicles on the road can run on ethanol--the German hosts are taking things one step further in the theme of sustainable mobility.

Recyclable cars? Heh. They're hosting it in a recycled airport.

History buffs and seasoned travellers know it best by its postwar code, THF--Templehof Airport, in the south of Berlin, christened in 1923. In its time, it was the eastern cousin to France's Le Bourget--in the days when aviators, not pilots, flew, and when the romance of travel didn't include being bumped by a family of five headed to Disney World.

Lufthansa was born here, in 1926. During the war era, Hitler ordered Templehof expanded, and soon the new limestone-shrouded building would be one of the largest buildings in the world. The airport complex itself never was completed to its final Third Reich vision--it was to resemble an eagle when seen from above. Work stopped early in the war, and the building and its underground tunnels were converted to fighter-aircraft production.

After the battle of Berlin ended World War II in Europe, Templehof took the Allies' side. It fell under U.S. control, and as the Soviet Union and the Allies angled for territory in Berlin in 1948, Templehof was the Berlin Airlift, the landing point for food, coal and other necessary supplies flown in through a Soviet stranglehold. The airport's mission continued after the most tense moments of the airlift ended in 1949, and Templehof remained the primary military and commercial airport for West Berlin until reunification.

Berlin had three airports; today it's down to two and soon it will use just one. Templehof was decommissioned in 2008; the northern Tegel (TXF) airport is being closed in two years, as the city rebuilds Schoenefeld (SXF) airport into a new international airport, Berlin International (BER), which is scheduled to open late in 2011.

In the spirit of its Green Party politics and sustainability, Germany hasn't torn down Templehof: instead, it's become a great example of urban recycling for nations around the world grappling with old air facilities. Denver's old Stapleton Airport has become condos and retail; Los Angeles' former El Toro military base could only hope for something as quick and good. Templehof's been turned into a public facility and a park that encompasses bicycle trails, baseball fields and open spaces--and it's all free to the public.

If you think the story could hardly get greener, know that the newly minted park will host a horticultural convention in 2017, long after the May 2011 Challenge Bibendum. Also know, though, that the preservation of Templehof is driven at least as much out of concern for public safety, as by environmental concern. During the waning days of the Nazi empire, the German army laid booby traps for the Soviets, below the terminal buildings--and many subterranean levels have never been opened for fear of the hundreds of tons of old, tricky-to-detonate explosives still underground.

[Michelin; photo from Wikimedia Commons]


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