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Berlin and her Airports

Berlin and her Airports

Berlin is a massive sprawling city so it is perhaps appropriate for it to have had more than one major airport. When one looks back to the infamous Cold War blockade of Berlin in June of 1948 there were not enough runways in West Berlin for planes to land so during the Berlin Airlift the Allies were forced to get creative. In the French sector of northwest Berlin they built a couple of new runways next to Lake Tegel which became Tegel Airport. Even with Tempelhof, Gatow and Tegel however there was even the need for sea planes to land on the river to unload their cargo. After almost one year however the Soviets relented in May of 1949 and opened up rail traffic to Berlin and the Berlin Airlift was over.

When I first arrived in Berlin the Cold War too was well over and Berlin was only running three airports, Tempelhof, Tegel and Schonefeld. As an aspiring ex-pat in 1998 I had to fly from NYC (JFK) to Frankfurt and then change to a connecting flight to Berlin Tegel (TXL). Eventually Delta started direct flights from JFK to TXL which made the whole process much easier and is perhaps why still to this day I prefer TXL over SXF (Schonefeld Airport). Tegel is built in a circle so no matter how hard you try it is almost impossible to get lost. At the very worst you will walk through the entire airport only to end up back where you started. Tegel is also located only about 30 minutes away from the city center and is accessible by the TXL express bus, though you can also take the subway to get there. A taxi will cost roughly 20/30 Euro from the city center. The third airport Tempelhof was already on its way out when I arrived and though I did not get the chance to use it I did enter once when I picked up a friend who arrived there.

Tempelhof is perhaps the most famous of Berlin’s airports, it even had a cameo in Indian Jones’ Last Crusade as Harrison Ford and Sean Connery board a Zeppelin as they flee Nazi Berlin. It was built up in the 1930’s by a Nazi architect named Ernst Sagebiel. (Sagabiel was also responsible for the construction of another massive Nazi building just down the road. It was originally used as the Air Ministry of Hermann Goering and is currently the German Ministry of Finance.) Tempelhof used to be one of the largest buildings in the world though nowadays most people are much more impressed by Tropical Island located about an hour outside of Berlin. It was originally a factory for building Zepplins known as the Aerium and is nowadays the world’s largest indoor water park with over 700,00 square feet and ceilings over 100 meters high! Tempelhof was mainly used by diplomats flying in from Bonn for flights within Germany. It was closed in 2008 and its future is still uncertain. That still leaves Berlin with two major commercial airports, Tegel and Schonefeld.

Schonefeld (soon to be known as Berlin Brandenburg International) will become the sole airport in the German capital and is currently undergoing construction as more hangars and terminals are being built to handle all the traffic it will receive once Tegel is shut down. It is located in the far southeast of the city and takes about an hour to reach by S Bahn. There is also a regional express train which only takes 25 minutes to get from SXF to Alexanderplatz in the city center but it only departs every 30 minutes. There is currently construction being done on the train tracks so if you take the S Bahn you will have to switch at least once to get into the central Berlin. A taxi to Schonefeld will cost between 30 – 40 Euro from the city center.

Berlin is a city deep in debt and though tourism is helping the economy it sometimes seems the debt is insurmountable especially with the government’s quixotic handling of the economic situation. It has a history of tearing down perfectly functional buildings only to replace them at great expense with a similar one at a later date. They still have not come up with a purpose for the huge amount of land in the city center which was once Tempelhof and once they shut down Tegel airport they will have the same problem. The capital’s mayor Klaus Wowereit‘s has joked “Berlin is poor but sexy” but that is just not enough. Many people are upset that their tax dollars paid for the destruction of the East German Parliament which used to stand on the site of the Royal Palace on Museum Island and much more public funding will go to the reconstruction of the Royal Palace of Berlin but that is a story for another blog.