SPIEGEL ONLINE

SPIEGEL ONLINE

01/20/2009 06:22 PM

Future of Tempelhof

Magic Mountain for Berlin?

The city of Berlin has long been trying to decide what to do with the monumental Tempelhof airport, built in the heart of the city by the Nazis. Some of the most recent proposals include a 1,000 meter mountain and a gigantic red-light district.

"The mother of all airports" is how star architect Sir Norman Foster once described Berlin's Tempelhof airport. Visitors to the site might agree. Built by the Nazis as the entry point to Hitler's never realized Third Reich capital Germania, the impressive terminal stretches 1.2 kilometers around one end of the airfield.

Since the end of October, though, the airport has been closed to air traffic, and the city of Berlin has been scratching its head about what to do with the enormous field in the heart of the city.

Help, though, has arrived. On Monday, the city revealed a dozen of the suggestions -- sent in by hopeful architects and city planners -- currently under consideration. The most titillating? Why not turn the site into an enormous red-light district?

Hoax or not, the so-called "Columbia Strip" plan stands out among the rather humdrum collection of plans calling for apartments, parks and athletic fields -- the kind of project the city has been kicking around for months. Relative to some of the imaginative proposals that didn't make the first cut, though, the "Columbia Strip" is rather practical.

Like the one sent in by Berlin architect Jakob Tigges. He doesn't like the idea of parcelling up the site and turning it in to the kind of ordinary project that could find a home in one of the other abundant open spaces in the German capital. His idea? Tigges wants to erect a 1,000 meter (3,281 foot) tall mountain on the airfield. "It's provocative, but not constructive," Tigges told SPIEGEL ONLINE of his proposal.

In fact, Tigges sees his idea as more of a place-holder in the minds of Berliners, a mythical mountain to fire imaginations until an appropriately grand solution is found. In the meantime, Tigges says, he would prefer for Tempelhof to remain untouched as he considers it more interesting for a Sunday walk than your average park landscape.

"Tourists would come to the site to take photographs of the mountain that isn't there," said Tigges, who noted that his euphoric mountain renderings serve as a direct critique of the city of Berlin. "The site is much too valuable to sacrifice for mediocre apartment buildings."

Only the northern portion of Tempelhof is up for grabs in this competition. But the site, in its entirety, includes 49 monumental buildings, 7 hangers and 9,000 offices. Its arched main building was supposedly designed to look like an eagle in flight, though it has more of a coat hanger shape.

Tempelhof's megalomaniacal structure, which expanded on existing airport grounds, was part of the Nazi's comprehensive, "eternal" plan for Germania. After World War II, the Americans took control of Tempelhof from the Soviets and it became one of the target airports for the famed Berlin Air Lift, during which the Allies sustained the city's population with food and supplies for over 11 months. The Americans later expanded the airport and used it as a base for decades.

After the last American troops left in 1993, Germans reopened an airport using only 10 percent of its expansive space. Then the airport closed last October due to high operating costs. Because it is under historical preservation, Tempelhof won't be demolished in the fashion of other Berlin sites, such as the now-gone capital building of former East Germany. Instead, the government will decide its fate by May of this year.

Located smack in the middle of Berlin, Tempelhof is just a short bike ride away from the city's center and sites like the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag. As such, it provides an interesting space for investors.

In addition to more recent ideas floated for Tempelhof, there was once a proposal to convert the space into a luxury medical clinic for the rich and famous, complete with landing strips for private planes. Ronald Lauder of the Estee Lauder fortune stood ready to invest €350 million for a huge health and wellness center that he felt would draw international patients seeking privacy during plastic surgery and other procedures. He may have been right, seeing as how the airport has attracted stars such as the Marilyn Monroe and Marlene Dietrich in the past. Yet the plan never came to fruition.

cew

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