A year from today, the long-awaited Berlin Brandenburg International airport (BBI) will open next to the site of Berlin-Schönefeld, finally ending a long and drawn out game of airport musical chairs. The new airport will replace Schönefeld, taking its runway and adding another.
The pressure on BBI is huge: by the time the ribbon is cut at the new airport, the city will have lost three others in a total of five years. Tempelhof airport closed in 2008, while Schönefeld and Tegel, Berlin’s busiest, will close the day BBI opens. The question is, what to do with the old ones?
Templehof Airport will be missed most of all. It was one of the first commercial airports and a lifeline during the Berlin Blockade. After a tug-of-war over development plans, it was supposed to be reborn as Tempelhofer Park in May 2010. With little development so far, it remains a sea of meadows, with people cycling, running, and rollerblading on the old runways.
Current building plans for the larger Tempelhof area include apartments, a huge public library, an eco business-park and community buildings that will breathe life into deprived neighbouring districts. The listed terminal building will host exhibitions and provide office space.
The city recently selected architects Gross Max and Sutherland Hussey to remodel the parkland, with work scheduled to start in 2013. The firm’s design preserves the runways, adding oddities such as ‘cloud pavilions’ and a 60m-high mountain, providing a nice counterpart to the city’s multi-billion euro mountain of debt. Locals are questioning the purpose of the airport’s final incarnation, and its price tag.
“The city has no money. Really. They can do nearly nothing,” says Martin Brosch, a graphic designer responsible for a radical unrealised plan to turn the whole area into a lake. “Nobody wants this. Nobody wants buildings there.”
Developing the parkland will be the “first visible step” and the diamond of the project, explains Martin Pallgen, spokesperson for the Tempelhof Projekt development agency. Pallgen admits the park will not be completed until 2017 and the urban development possibly not until 2025. The Tempelhof development symbolises a fundamental problem Berlin has in turning itself into a world-class city: it needs to start realising its amazing ideas. Rebuilding Stadtschloss, Berlin’s Prussian royal palace, is a lesson in civic blunders. Completion was recently pushed back six years to 2019. It’s currently an expensive hole in the ground. It’s one of many.
Although BBI airport is on schedule, Tempelhof’s regeneration may turn out to be a pipe dream, destined to be delayed by talk of cautious and sustainable development, too often a financially convenient euphemism for sluggish progress.