Tempelhof Airport: Are You Plain Naive or Plane Nerd?

Happy in your allotment comfort zone slumped on a makeshift wooden sofa? Perhaps you are guilty of sipping on a Sterny as the sun drops on the infamous Tempelhof skyline instead? Always wondered what goes on inside that building which forms the backdrop to your sunset snaps? Just take off that hipster hat for a couple of hours and discover the tales of Tempelhof from behind the scenes.

Pick nickers, musicians, gardeners, jugglers and runners plus skateboarders, bladers, kite flyers, windsurfers, as well as bikes, buggies and BBQs dominate the abandoned airfield. Locomotion takes every shape and form at Tempelhofer Feld, proving that it really is a field of freedom as it is known in German, ‘Tempelhofer Freiheit.’ Amidst the buzz of leisure time activities, however, it is impossible to forget that you are indeed, sat in the middle of a former wartime airport. You definitely do not need 20/20 vision to spot the airway traffic signs and endless runways.

Berliners watch a Douglas C-54 Skymaster land at Tempelhof Airport, 1948. 

Space now filled with frivolity it may be. But it is a space which leads by example as Tempelhof openly invites you to engage with its heavy past. And if the information boards just leave you wanting more, why not go a step further?

Step underground. Step back in time. Take a steep, dark step into the depths of bunkers, bomb shelters and film shelters tucked away 3 levels below ground. Not only was Tempelhof crucial to civilians during WW2, but it acted as a lifeline for the city’s residents between the years 1948 and 1949 during the Berlin blockade. Over 2.5 million relied on daily, (almost every minute of the day in fact) food deliveries supplied by the allies through a narrow selection of 3 air corridors across the Soviet zone of occupation.

Keen to hear every truth going, I opted for the ‘Secret places of Tempelhof’ tour. If you’re happy with a German-speaking guide you can choose from a selection of different tour titles, all focusing on a different historical angle. Of course, English tours are available too and run on Saturdays and Sundays at 3pm and 2pm respectively. The guide leads you in, out, down and around the site for 2 hours through the various wings, tunnels and bunkers of the airport building detailing the Nazi era and Tempelhof’s vital role in the cold war. Experience the pungent smells and claustrophobia of an air raid shelter first hand, glimpse into the life of an American soldier to whom Tempelhof really was home and finally, shudder as you realise how mechanical and ugly an arrival hall used to be.

Best of all (after the untouched burnt remnants of the film bunker); enjoy striding out of the airport building with the iconic white watch tower covering you to your left, aircraft to your right and just the exposed vastness in front. Swamped by the airport’s albatross-esque wingspan, you feel minuscule yet mighty at the same time. Face to face with the field of Tempelhof, it’s a new perspective on familiar grounds.

All in all, it seems fitting that an area designed for transit, destined to thrive off arrivals and departures, should have then witnessed quite so many turbulent comings and goings in its lifetime. A mini-me of the capital itself, the abandoned airport proudly acknowledges its history, shares its stories, meanwhile offering itself up as a progressive patch of social freedom and escapism. What’s more, no one gets turned away by a bouncer either.

So how can you visit the birthplace of the Deutsche Lufthansa and step foot inside the former airport’s central building, now the largest listed monument in Europe?

Nab your tickets online in advance or head to the airport and book in person. Avid for Aviation? Then I don’t need to tell you twice.

Useful Info:
GAT (General Admission Terminal) Entrance
(Opposite the petrol station)
Tempelhofer Damm 1-7
Tickets-Adults: 15 EUR/ Students: 10 EUR /Kids: 7 EUR

By Alice Higgins
Alice joined the Berlin startup scene in July 2014 and works for an online travel company. Originally from London UK, she swapped one capital for another and now details her latest discoveries on DiaryDE.

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