Typically, an airport tarmac is filled with airplanes, luggage transport cars, and people directing plane traffic. Berlin’s Tempelhof deviates from this airport norm, however. In 2008, in an effort to reduce air traffic in Berlin, the airport closed down. Since then, the airport has been turned into a space for large fairs, tradeshows, and festivals. Berliners have also reclaimed Tempelhof as a park, but the people of Berlin had to take to the streets to keep this space open for public use.
Initially, the city mayor had the vision to build a shopping center, condominiums, and plazas in the big empty plot. These plans were quickly extinguished. As I’ve written before, the people of Berlin despise such gentrification and they protested against it. The city changed the plans to instead build affordable housing and a library leaving 230 of the former airport’s 380 hectares intact as the existing playground. Even this was unsatisfactory for Berliners. On May 25, 2014, voters won the right to keep Tempelhof as a park free of any future building projects. Berliners are not against books or homes for low-income families—they just don’t see Tempelhof as the right location for it. They wanted to see the space preserved for use on their own terms—and they got it.
This was a great victory, in my opinion, especially after having the opportunity last month to see it in its full operation as a park, bathed in unobstructed golden light.
After its 85 year stint, no more flights fly in and out at Tempelhof, no more luggage carriers rush across the pavement, and no more people stand around with their glowing wands. Left behind is a massive paved landscape with its hangars and enormous terminal buildings at one end. Dotted across the tarmac are people flying kites, playing sports, BBQing, skating and riding bikes, maintaining urban gardens, and just about anything else you can imagine.
Dani and I grabbed a couple of beers just before entering the park so we could sit and sip in the middle of the tarmac and watch the sunset and other people enjoying the day’s last minutes of sunlight.
The noticed the tarmac is marked up in places to guide runners who frequent the park. It’s a strange sight when considering Boeing 747 aircrafts used to barrel down the same path!
One activity I had never seen before were the kite landboarders, or “skyriders,” in the park. With all of the open space available to them, they are able to fly around freely, carried by their kites, without worry of hitting anyone else or each other.
My photos barely do this new and extreme sport justice, so here is a video I found of some skyriding Berliners at Tempelhof.
I really loved walking across Tempelhof—it was one of my favorite Berlin activities. When I go back to Berlin, I hope to bring a big picnic and spend a whole afternoon there. Maybe I’ll learn how to skyride while I’m at it! ;)