Central Hall, Tempelhof Airport

Tempelhof Berlin used to be one of the world’s largest and busiest airports.

Central Hall, Tempelhof Airport, Berlin 2010

© Leslie Hossack

Tempelhof Airport is a registered historic monument. The site was originally Knights Templar land in medieval Berlin, and this is the origin of the name Tempelhof. In 1909, Armand Zipfel made the first flight demonstration at Tempelhof, followed by Orville Wright that same year.

In 1923, Tempelhof was officially designated an airport. As part of Albert Speer’s plan for the reconstruction of Berlin, Ernst Sagebiel was ordered to replace the old terminal with a new building in 1934. Designed in monumental Nazi style, Sagebiel’s main entrance doors open into a four-story high Hall of Honour. From there, stairs lead down into the central hall shown in this photograph. Here the walls are divided by rectangular columns and high windows, and from galleries suspended on either side, visitors watched passenger operations.

At one time Tempelhof was the central airport for the city and the largest building in Berlin. During WW II, several basement rooms under the administrative building were finished as air-raid shelters for Lufthansa and airport employees, and for people from the neighborhood. Damaged during the war, the airport complex underwent additional changes from 1959 to 1962.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall and German reunification, the Allied occupation of Berlin came to an end. In July 1994, the British, French and American forces were deactivated in a ceremony on the Four Ring Parade Field at Tempelhof, and the Western Allies returned the city of Berlin to the German government.

Architect: Ernst Sagebiel          Date: 1935-1941

Canopy Roof and Tarmac, Tempelhof Airport

Tempelhof Berlin was built in classic Nazi “monumental”style.

Canopy Roof and Tarmac, Tempelhof Airport, Berlin 2010

© Leslie Hossack

Nazi government buildings such as Tempelhof Airport were generally built in a monumental style designed to intimidate the individual and exalt the state. Sometimes, two different styles were used in the same structure. The street side of Tempelhof has an imposing classic appearance, while the airfield side, with its steel gate construction, looks modern and almost transparent.

Inside the airport, the huge departure hall is 1.2 km long. Outside, the flight gates are covered by a canopy-style roof to protect passengers from the elements. These flight gates and the projecting steel roof form an enormous semicircular apron that was designed to resemble an eagle in flight with outspread wings. The roof of the main airport hall was built to support bleachers to allow up to 65,000 spectators to watch flight demonstrations, but the stands were never completed.

The plane in this photograph is the last one at Tempelhof. It sits alone on the tarmac in stark contrast to the time when the airport was the busiest in the world. Tempelhof was the site of the 1948-49 Berlin Airlift when the Soviet authorities closed off Berlin. The Western Powers sustained the city by providing essential supplies by air, landing at the rate of one plane every three minutes. Later, during the Cold War, Tempelhof was the main terminal for American planes accessing Berlin.

Tempelhof Airport was officially closed on October 30th, 2008, and it is still awaiting news of its fate. In May 2010, the outfield at Tempelhof was opened as Berlin’s largest public park and named “Tempelhofer Feld.”

Architect: Ernst Sagebiel          Date: 1935-1941

Entrance Plaza, Tempelhof Airport

Tempelhof Berlin was once described as “the mother of all airports.”

Entrance Plaza, Tempelhof Airport, Berlin 2010

© Leslie Hossack

Tempelhof Airport was described by the renowned British architect Sir Norman Foster as “the mother of all airports.”

Built by the Nazis, Tempelhof was taken by the Soviets during the Battle of Berlin at the end of WW II. Shortly thereafter, the airport was turned over to the United States as part of the American occupation of Berlin.

In 1937, Hitler had appointed his favourite architect, Albert Speer, to the position of “General Building Inspector for the Redesign of the Reich Capital.” Tempelhof was built in line with Speer’s grandiose plans to expand Berlin into a global capital called Germania.

Nazi administration buildings such as Tempelhof Airport were built in a monumental style that reduced design to its essentials. This approach is distinguished by smooth unadorned surfaces that appear severe and two-dimensional. The National Socialist style is often characterized by a reinforced concrete frame that is clad in natural stone; façades are flat and symmetrical, and window frames are rectangular with sharp edges.

Tempelhof Airport is a typical example, with its identical rows of windows. The large entrance plaza seen in this photograph is framed by three-story wing structures on either side of the massive five-story reception building with its 21 entrance doors. A 45-metre-high Reich eagle sat on the roof of the main building until 1962; today, only its head is left on display in front of the plaza.

Architect: Ernst Sagebiel          Date: 1935-1941