July 18th, 2019.
4km from the centre of Berlin lies a sprawling 300 hectares of green space. One of the largest public parks in Europe, this communal space has become one of the cities most loved urban playgrounds and has cemented itself as a jewel in the concrete crown of Germany.
Berlin Tempelhof operated as one of Europes largest and busiest airports until officially closing in 2008 before being handed to the people as a place of leisure in 2010. The architectural style of the colossal buildings was re-designed throughout the Nazi regime and cold war when the airport was a veritable lifeline to West Berlin and one of the largest buildings in Europe. Designed to represent the monumental thinking behind Nazi architecture, British architect Norman Foster referred to the main terminal building as “the mother of all airports.” So the decision to hand the area over the people of Berlin to be used as a public park in perpetuity was a hugely redemptive gesture in the collective conscience of the world.
The iconic design of the airport anchors it to history and establishes it as a favourite event venue today.
The gesture however, was swiftly reneged. In 2011, government plans were put forward to redevelop the site. With a promise to build on only 25% of the space and to deliver affordable housing and a plethora of community amenity, the Berlin public turned down the proposal in a vast majority, despite media backing and government support. And so, a Monaco sized area in the centre of Berlin remains a park today.
There are many who would argue that Berlin is holding itself back from essential evolution. That, in the spirit of compromise, there is surely the possibility to sensitively develop such a prominent and important mass of real estate to support the blossoming population of one of Europe’s foremost cities. However, the evident lack of trust in elected officials to approach such a project in such a way is clearly apparent.
A makeshift playground takes shape atop some of Europe’s most valuable real estate.
The gift, now given, cannot be returned, however the use of the space as public domain has become a fascinating spectacle. Nowhere else in Europe’s high density urban landscape is there the staggering luxury of space to host events. Many of the buildings have long term tenants (the German police headquarters have been housed in one of the terminal buildings since 1950), and the sheer opportunity to host almost 4,000 patrons under one spectacularly un-columned roof, is a civil-engineering feat that allows for unrivalled event scopes. The metamorphosis of this stoic site is not finished yet but the journey is a fascinating lesson in urban development and the power of the people.
Words by Tiffany Jade.