Berlin Tegel: Farewell to the airport that wouldn’t die

(CNN) — While the imminent opening of Berlin’s long-delayed Brandenburg Airport will trigger many in the metropolis to breathe a sigh of aid, it additionally means the unhappy finish of an period.

As Brandenburg cranks into motion, Berlin’s Tegel Airport — a much-loved relic from the final century — will in the end be closing for good.

In reality, Tegel ought to’ve been decommissioned years in the past. It was congested, drained and outdated. But Brandenburg’s decade of delays stored it alive as a stand-in, and for all its faults, it had many admirers.

Even efforts to completely shut the airport earlier this yr due to the coronavirus pandemic failed. Tegel managed to evade demise one final time.

Despite its comparatively small measurement, it grew to become Germany’s fourth busiest airport and symbolized Berlin like few different public buildings.

Berlin’s airports had been by no means simply technique of transport, by no means simply faceless terminals in the center of a discipline. These amenities completely replicate the turbulent story of the metropolis in the 20th and 21st century.

The most well-known, Tempelhof, was opened in 1927, and sealed its place in aviation historical past throughout the Berlin airlift of 1948-49 when the metropolis was blockaded by the Soviet Union.

Now closed, it has been remodeled right into a park and sought-after location for World War II films.

The metropolis’s different predominant airport, Schönefeld, opened in 1946 as the predominant airfield of East Germany, and retained one thing of that Soviet environment effectively past the nation’s reunification.

Of all of them, it is Tegel that holds a particular place in the coronary heart of many Berliners.

Stalin’s orders

Tegel Airport is scheduled to close for good on November 8, 2020.

Tegel Airport is scheduled to shut for good on November 8, 2020.

JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP by way of Getty Images

Like so many different issues in the metropolis, Tegel Airport is a stopgap measure that in some way grew to become everlasting.

After World War II, when West Berlin was nonetheless in the fingers of allied forces, there have been plans to flip the space into allotments, however Soviet chief Joseph Stalin had completely different plans.

As the blockade he ordered started in June 1948, it turned out shortly that there was want for an extra airfield to deliver provides in, so the French authorities in control of the Tegel district ordered the development of a 2,500-meter-long runway — the longest in Europe at the time.

The first aircraft, a USAF Douglas C-54, landed in November 1948.

After the blockade ended six months later, Tegel grew to become the Berlin base of the French Air Force.

In the late 1950s, with elevated air site visitors coming into West Berlin in ever larger planes, the runways at Tempelhof had been proving too quick, so over the subsequent 20 years Tegel grew to become the predominant airport.

The metropolis’s particular standing throughout the Cold War meant that solely the Allies may function army and civilian plane from and to Tegel. All passengers had to use the airport’s authentic small prefabricated terminal constructing.

Despite these cramped circumstances and restrictions, for some the airport really was a gateway to freedom.

Drahomira Bukowiecki fled communist Czechoslovakia in 1968 to West Berlin and was sentenced to 10 years laborious labor in absentia.

For her, the airport grew to become the solely technique of escaping a metropolis surrounded by communism.

“I could only ever leave through Tegel, as I would have been arrested if I tried to cross the GDR via land,” Bukowiecki tells CNN Travel. “So Tegel truly became my gateway to the world, also because I took a plane for the first time in my life from here.”

Hexagonal glamor

Tegel was seen as a "a gateway to freedom" for some people fleeing Soviet oppression.

Tegel was seen as a “a gateway to freedom” for some individuals fleeing Soviet oppression.

Maja Hitij/Getty Images

The airport continued to make an impression on Berliners, particularly after a brand new, mildly brutalist and hexagonally formed terminal constructing was opened in 1974.

The hanging design shortened strolling distances to as quick as 30 meters from plane to the terminal exit.

“To me and many other West Berliners, Tegel really was a place apart,” Bukowiecki provides. “It symbolized the glamorous world of air travel with its shops that sold wonderful things and the whole process of taking a flight which was very different in the 1970s.

“And even after reunification, with air journey turning into out there extensively, that view didn’t change. Schönefeld actually is so distant from the metropolis heart. So for me and my technology Tegel is the true Berlin airport, part of us and the one place that enabled us to fly to freedom!”

In the next few years things really took off for Tegel.

On September 1, 1975, Pan Am and British Airways moved their entire Berlin operation here overnight.

Retired journalist Jutta Hertlein remembers the excitement of her neighbors when the new terminal started its operations.

“In the morning my neighbor got here to me and requested if I had heard all the planes flying low over the home all evening — they had been shifting them from Tempelhof to Tegel,” she says. “But I had been so immersed in my work that I didn’t hear a factor.”

Hertlein also recalls that Tegel occupied a significant place in the political landscape of Berlin and Germany, for better or worse.

“I used it usually to journey for work; however at the identical time in the ’80s the airport was already used for the deportation of asylum seekers.

“There was a large protest planned on one such occasion, and I went to join the protestors at Tegel in the morning, but as I was wearing my usual business attire the policemen cordoning off the protest tried to guide me to the airport as I did not look like a protester at all — but I wanted to show that it’s not just the young punks and leftists protesting these deportations.”

Confusion and chaos

Tegel was scheduled to close early because of the pandemic, but still came back for more.

Tegel was scheduled to shut early due to the pandemic, however nonetheless got here again for extra.

JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP by way of Getty Images

With German reunification in 1990 and the authorities shifting from Bonn to Berlin, all restrictions on Berlin air site visitors had been lifted and Tegel grew to become the official German authorities airport.

That position has meant it is seen the US President’s Air Force One touchdown right here extra usually than some other airport in Germany.

Reunification additionally meant that passenger numbers and flights elevated exponentially as air journey grew to become increasingly commonplace.

Tegel was designed for dealing with 2.5 million passengers a yr, however 24 million individuals flew from right here in 2019.

While a brand new third terminal was added in 2007, Tegel grew to become more and more cramped, with operations and amenities clearly outdated.

There was no direct public transport connection both. Travelers utilizing Berlin’s U-Bahn metro system had to change to a bus at Kurt-Schumacher-Platz. Even Schönefeld had higher rail connections.

“Tegel’s unique architecture and design make you feel like being time-warped into the 1970s,” says frequent traveler Michael Stoffl, from Berlin. “The airport is tiny, especially when compared to other major capitals around the globe.

“The airport might have been thought-about fashionable and acceptable when it was opened however, particularly over the final decade, passengers had been to expertise its downsides, like usually feeling crammed and chaotic — and undoubtedly the lack of area.

“You had to make sure you didn’t line up in the wrong queue at the check-in counters as it was often confusing where each one led to.

“Many Tegel regulars rave about its proximity to the metropolis heart, which makes for a fast switch into city — until you had been utilizing public transport. Personally, I will not be lacking Tegel, besides maybe from a nostalgic facet.”

“ I’m madly in love with its ’70s ugliness. ”

Tilman Hierath, managing partner of Berlin’s Circus Hotel

But Tegel’s car-friendly design endeared the airport to many, especially in the Berlin hospitality sector.

Tilman Hierath is the managing partner of the Circus Hotel on Rosenthaler Platz as well as an enthusiastic hobby pilot and loves to use the airport.

“Tegel is definitely the finest airport in the world,” he says. “And I do not solely say that as a result of I’m head over heels in love with its ’70s ugliness.

“This design might not be efficient to operate, but it is a traveler’s dream of short waiting times and short distances. When the cab drivers went on strike a few years back, I rented a van and drove our guests from the hotel to the airport.

“In Tegel that doesn’t imply to an entrance two counties away. Instead, we had been ready to drop our friends off straight at their gate. It is the solely main airport I do know the place you possibly can see the check-in counter from the curb and the airplane from the check-in counter.”

Shabby charm

An old Boeing 707 that was presented as a gift to Lufthansa sits at the end of the runway.

An previous Boeing 707 that was introduced as a present to Lufthansa sits at the finish of the runway.

aslu/ullstein bild/Getty Images

Hierath remembers a specific incident involving a time-pressed visitor.

“He wanted to be in a vital assembly at our resort and in addition wanted to catch his flight that afternoon. So our entrance desk truly referred to as Tegel they usually held the gate open for our visitor.

“It is this personal touch that made all the difference. Tegel was not designed to intimidate and impress, it was designed to be at the traveler’s service.”

Tegel has all the time appeared an acceptable entrance to Berlin.

It’s not a sleekly designed airport strewn with therapeutic massage seats and good screens. Instead, like the metropolis it serves, it has a shabby attraction and an excellent coronary heart.

Its character exhibits via in the quirky elements of the airport unrelated to flight operations.

At the finish of the runway sits an previous Boeing 707, initially operated by El Al, that was as soon as the goal on an try by Palestinian terrorists to hijack it in 1970.

It was embellished in classic Lufthansa markings and introduced to the airline by Boeing as a present in 1986. As no German pilots or carriers had been permitted to fly into Tegel at the time, the aircraft was lined with white stickers and delivered by an American crew at evening, to be revealed in Lufthansa colours the subsequent day.

The plane was introduced by Lufthansa to West Berlin in 1987 as a part of celebrations for the metropolis’s 750th birthday. Eventually it was shuffled off to a far-flung nook of the airfield, often getting used for evacuation coaching.

At the different finish of Tegel is the small however quirky Allierte in Berlin museum, a non-public assortment operated by volunteers and devoted to the historical past of the Allied forces in Berlin.

Bowie and Reagan

A gateway to Berlin for US Presidents and popstars, Tegel has cemented its place in the city's history.

A gateway to Berlin for US Presidents and popstars, Tegel has cemented its place in the metropolis’s historical past.

Maja Hitij/Getty Images

The airport itself is due to be confined to historical past on November Eight when the last scheduled flight to depart Tegel can be — fittingly — an Air France service to Paris.

After that, the future is considerably unsure.

Real property builders and designers are prepared to reinvent the airport: There are plans to develop the web site right into a so-called “Urban Tech Republic,” a excessive tech enterprise hub that may present 18,000 jobs.

Tegel’s A and B terminals can be utilized by the University of Applied Sciences Berlin to set up a brand new expertise park for up to 2,500 college students. The remaining space can be out there for industrial use, the largest single inner-city growth space in up to date Berlin.

Whatever its destiny, the airport’s place in the story of Berlin will perpetually cement its standing as “the” metropolis airport, significantly, as British author and Berlin skilled Paul Sullivan factors out, thanks to its position in latest popular culture.

“I think that over the decades the airport’s modest dimensions and aesthetic and the fact that many celebrities like David Bowie and Ronald Reagan used it to enter West Berlin really created a lot of affection in Berliners,” he says.

“Even the overpriced Currywurst stall outside the terminal, made to look like an S-Bahn carriage, to me symbolizes the airport’s charming crappiness.”

Even although the neighbors can be relieved, the one factor that I’ll miss about Tegel the most is the direct, loud and smelly expertise of journey.

There was one thing genuinely interesting about ready at the bus cease on Kurt-Schumacher-Platz close to the kebab stands and Chinese eating places and watching the planes roar in simply 50 meters overhead on their last method to the airport.

Tegel was one in all the final of a dying breed: a veteran metropolis airport, battered and perpetually unbeaten.

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