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Tempelhof Berlin: Where The Eagles Dare

After a two day hangover and some kidney stone symptoms, I decided enough was enough and took about three or four 500 mg tablets of Ibuprofen and off for a stroll I went. As soon as the painkillers started working, it seemed logical to stop by a Späti and purchase a small bottle of Jäger, which kind of smells like medicine anyway, so I supposed it would do no harm.
Logically, my walk became much more pleasant, and as I carried on I began to sense some strong energies which I attributed to my state of elation, but these so called energies grew stronger and stronger, and in the midst of this  ethereal sensation, I realized that  I was walking by the infamous Tempelhof airport. I haven’t walked around this area since the 70’s and Lord, that really brought back a lot of memories…

But let us rewind for a moment to do a little background check on this mystical spot. You see, this place has a bit of history. For starters, this area was originally inhabited by the Christian Order of the Knights Templar, sometime around the 13th century, thus earning the name Tempelhof.  The order went to shit a century later probably due to too many melees with Ivanhoe or something. It eventually passed on to the Order of St.John, another bunch of knight lads, who probably used it to hang out, practice their sword moves, get ripped and whatever else knights did back in the day. The land was eventually sold and went to the hands of the united city of Berlin/Cölln, which was this part of the hood  before Berlin was Berlin proper.

After that there wasn't much going on for a while except for a bit of the old farming and what not until Elector ‘Iron Tooth’ Friedrich I decided to confiscate it. Fast forward a few centuries to 1722 and King Friedrich Wilhelm I put up a garrison and used it as a parade ground for his army. This, of course, increased the site’s importance, and it was subsequently sold to the army around 1826 or so. The 19th century became an  increasingly busy one for the field. Loads of stuff were built, ranging from horse tracks to hospitals to a cemetery for the soldiers of the Franco-German war. They even built a bleedin’ Tivoli amusement park by the edge of the place.  As if that wasn't enough, it also was the birthplace of BFC Germania, the oldest footie club still active in Germany.

The 20th century was by no means less eventful and with the advent  of flying machines the airport was opened in 1923. It was probably a shite year economically for the city but pretty vibrant considering the history of this period; by then it was known as ‘Tempelhof Field Airport. With the growing demand for commercial flights the airport expanded, but by 1933 when the National Socialists took power and held a few parades of their own, the Gestapo decided to use the former military detention center in the Columbia Haus as a prison for political opponents, who were kept  in horrible conditions, resulting in its becoming Berlin’s first concentration camp. Since the treatment of inmates was pretty bad even by Nazi standards, the camp was eventually  closed and the inmates transferred to another location. In 1934 architect Ernst Sagebiel was commissioned to replace the old terminal with a new one that would be much more badass than anything ever seen before. Well, apparently this lad did a hell of a job because the halls are still ominous structures that continue to awe bystanders.  With the arrival of the war, further construction and delusions of grandeur had to be set aside for more functional bellicose uses. Bomber plane production began and forced labour was brought in.

By the end of the war in 1945 the Allies took over, and this part of the city passed from Russian to American command in a matter of few months.  This was a key event in the city because after a considerable time of the Russians and the rest of the Allies hissing and squabbling with each other about bullshit over elections and the Deutsche-Mark, one of the most significant events in the history of the city (and the Cold War) took place: the Berlin-Blockade began.

Douglas C-54 Skymaster over Tempelhof during the Berlin Blockade, 1948

The blockade meant essentially that the Russians blocked railway, road and canal access to the sectors of Berlin under Allied control, with the intent to force their former pals into granting their terms. The Allies responded by organizing the Berlin Airlift, which meant that they supplied the city with food and other basics via air delivery, something that the Russians hadn't really anticipated as they hadn’t thought it was possible. This proved to be a symbolic middle finger (or two fingers depending on what side of the pond you’re at) painted in red and blue and white to the Soviet occupying forces, and by 1948 the Allies had made more than 200,000 flights. Since neither side really wanted or needed a war, the flights were not blocked. The unfortunate part was that it resulted in the division of the city, which led to the construction of the wall and we all know the story from there, I presume.

The airport continued to function as a commercial airport until 2008, when it was decided that it would be replaced by the laughable Berlin Brandenburg airport, but as of today, I haven’t seen shit…

In any case, there I was, prancing about the place, reminiscing about personal things and observing all the little reminders of a by-gone era such as the traces of Allied Airfields to the now Swastika-less Reichsadlers that still adorn some bits of the structures. I decided to have a stroll around the fields, which are now open during day-time. After strolling pleasantly for a while I quietly sat down on the wet grass and chain-smoked, looking at the colourful array of people enjoying some leisure time, just as their 19th century Berliner counterparts had done. Well probably not exactly, but you know what I mean. Some youngsters with tote bags with ironic slogans were sparking up only to be detained by some laughable semi-police park staff who evidently were lacking in a sense of humour. As they argued and boo-hooed about their rights and other ridiculous subjects, I wondered if they even had the slightest idea about all the events and history that had taken place in these fields. Then I passed out ‘cause my Jäger was empty and the moment was no longer romantic. Bah…(Old man’s grunt)

By Julian Sylvester

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