Berlin Tempelhof Airport in Berlin

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For the United States Air Force military use of this facility, see Tempelhof Central Airport

Berlin Tempelhof Airport was an airport in Berlin, Germany, situated in the south-central borough of Tempelhof-Schöneberg. The airport ceased operating in 2008 in the process of establishing Schönefeld as the sole commercial airport for Berlin.

Tempelhof was designated as an airport by the Ministry of Transport on 8 October 1923. The old terminal was originally constructed in 1927. In anticipation of increasing air traffic, the Nazi government began a massive reconstruction in the mid-1930s. While it was occasionally cited as the world's oldest still operating commercial airport, the title was disputed by several other airports, and has in any case been moot since its closure.

Tempelhof was one of Europe's three iconic pre-World War II airports, the others being London's now defunct Croydon Airport and the old Paris – Le Bourget Airport. One of the airport's most distinctive features is its large, canopy-style roof, which was able to accommodate most contemporary airliners during its heyday in the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s, thereby protecting passengers from the elements. Tempelhof Airport's main building was once among the top 20 largest buildings on earth; in contrast, it formerly had the world's smallest duty-free shop.

Tempelhof Airport closed all operations on 30 October 2008, despite the efforts of some protesters to prevent the closure. A non-binding referendum was held on 27 April 2008 against the impending closure but failed due to low voter turnout.


Tempelhof was often called the "City Airport". In its later years, it mostly had commuter flights to other parts of Germany and neighbouring countries; but it had in the past received long-haul, wide-bodied airliners, such as the Boeing 747, the Lockheed L-1011 Tristar and the Lockheed C-5A Galaxy.

It had two parallel runways. Runway 9L/27R was 2,094 metres (6,870 ft) long and runway 9R/27L was 1,840 m (6,037 ft). Both were paved with asphalt. The taxiway was in the shape of an oval around these two runways, with a single terminal on the north side of the airport.

Other possible uses for Tempelhof are being discussed, and many people are trying to keep the airport buildings preserved.

Airlines and destinations

The last airlines to fly regularly from/to Tempelhof were: The following air taxi operators had flown from/to Tempelhof:

  • AAF Aviona Air
  • Air Service Berlin (scheduled sightseeing flights using a historic raisin bomber Douglas DC-3)
  • AIRSHIP Air Service
  • Bizair Fluggesellschaft
  • Business Air Charter
  • Heli Unionair
  • Jet Club Deutschland Chartermanagement
  • Private Wings
  • Rotorflug
  • TAG Aviation
  • Windrose Air


The site of the airport was originally Knights Templar land in medieval Berlin, and from this beginning came the name Tempelhof. Later, the site was used as a parade field by Prussian forces, and by unified German forces from 1720 to the start of World War I. In 1909, Frenchman Armand Zipfel made the first flight demonstration in Tempelhof, followed by Orville Wright later that same year. Tempelhof was first officially designated as an airport on 8 October 1923. Deutsche Luft Hansa was founded in Tempelhof on 6 January 1926.

The old terminal, originally constructed in 1927, became the world's first with an underground railway. The station has since been renamed Paradestraße, because the rebuilding of the airport in the 1930s required the airport access to be moved to a major intersection with a station now called Platz der Luftbrücke after the Berlin Airlift.

As part of Albert Speer's plan for the reconstruction of Berlin during the Nazi era, Prof. Ernst Sagebiel was ordered to replace the old terminal with a new terminal building in 1934. The airport halls and the adjoining buildings, intended to become the gateway to Europe and a symbol of Hitler's "world capital" Germania, are still known as one of the largest built entities worldwide, and have been described by British architect Sir Norman Foster as "the mother of all airports". With its façades of shell limestone, the terminal building, built between 1936 and 1941, forms a 1.2 kilometre long quadrant. Arriving passengers walk through customs controls to the reception hall. Tempelhof was served by the U6 U-Bahn line along Mehringdamm and up Friedrichstraße (Platz der Luftbrücke station).

Zentralflughafen Tempelhof-Berlin had the advantage of a central location just minutes from the Berlin city centre and quickly became one of the world's busiest airports. Tempelhof saw its greatest pre-war days during 1938–1939, when more than 52 foreign and 40 domestic aircraft arrived and departed daily from the old terminal while the new one was still under construction.

The air terminal was designed as headquarters for Deutsche Luft Hansa, the German national airline at that time. As a forerunner of today's modern airports, the building was designed with many unique features including giant arc-shaped hangars for aircraft parking. Although under construction for more than ten years, it was never finished because of World War II.

The building complex was designed to resemble an eagle in flight with semicircular hangars forming the bird's spread wings. A mile-long hangar roof was to have been laid in tiers to form a stadium for spectators at air and ground demonstrations.

World War II

Weserwerke started war production in a new building for assembling Junkers Ju 87 "Stuka" dive bombers and later Focke-Wulf Fw 190 fighter planes in Tempelhof's underground tunnels. Aircraft engines were trucked to Tempelhof and joined to finished airframes. The airport is the hub of a "hub and spoke" arrangement of underground tunnels, and parts for the airplanes were brought from all parts of the city to the air base to be assembled and then flown out. Germany did not use Tempelhof as a military airfield during World War II, except for occasional emergency landings by fighter aircraft.

Soviet forces took Tempelhof in the Battle of Berlin on 24 April 1945 in the closing days of the war in Europe following a fierce battle with Luftwaffe troops. Tempelhof's German commander, Colonel Rudolf Boettger, refused to carry out orders to blow up the base, choosing instead to kill himself. After he died, the Russian troops attempted to clear the five lower levels of the airbase, but the Germans had booby-trapped everything and many were killed, leading the Russian commander to order the lower levels to be flooded with water. The lower three levels are still flooded to this day, having never been opened up due to unexploded ordnance.

In accordance with the Yalta agreements, Zentralflughafen Tempelhof-Berlin was turned over to the United States Army 2nd Armored Division on 2 July 1945 by the Soviet Union as part of the American occupation zone of Berlin. This agreement was later formalised by the August 1945 Potsdam Agreement, which formally divided Berlin into four occupation zones.

The 852nd Engineer Aviation Battalion arrived at Tempelhof (Code Number R-95) on 10 July 1945 and conducted the original repairs.

Berlin Airlift

On 20 June 1948 Soviet authorities, claiming technical difficulties, halted all traffic by land and by water into or out of the western-controlled section of Berlin. The only remaining access routes into the city were three 20 mi-wide air corridors across the Soviet-occupied zone of Germany. Faced with the choice of abandoning the city or attempting to supply its inhabitants with the necessities of life by air, the Western Powers chose the latter course, and for the next eleven months sustained the city's 2½ million residents in one of the greatest feats in aviation history.

Operation Vittles, as the airlift was unofficially named, began on 26 June when USAF Douglas C-47 Skytrains carried 80 tons of food into Tempelhof, far less than the estimated 4,500 tons of food, coal and other essential supplies needed daily to maintain a minimum level of existence. But this force was soon augmented by United States Navy and Royal Air Force cargo aircraft, as well as British European Airways (BEA) and some of Britain's fledgling wholly privately owned, independent airlines. The latter included the late Sir Freddie Laker's Air Charter, Eagle Aviation and Skyways. On 15 October 1948, to promote increased safety and cooperation between the separate US and British airlift efforts, the Allies created a unified command – the Combined Airlift Task Force under Maj. Gen. William H. Tunner, USAF, was established at Tempelhof. To facilitate the command and control, as well as the unloading of aircraft, the USAF 53rd Troop Carrier Squadron was temporarily assigned to Tempelhof.

In addition to the airlift operations, American engineers constructed a new 6,000-foot runway at Tempelhof between July and September 1948 and another between September and October 1948 to accommodate the expanding requirements of the airlift. The last airlift transport touched down at Tempelhof on 30 September 1949.

Tempelhof also became famous as the location of Operation Little Vittles: the dropping of candy to children living near the airport. The original Candy Bomber, Gail Halvorsen noticed children lingering near the fence line of the airport and wanted to share something with them. He eventually started dropping candy by parachute just before landing. His efforts were expanded by other pilots and eventually became a part of legend in the city of Berlin.

Cold War

As the Cold War intensified in the late 1950s and 1960s, access problems to West Berlin, both by land and air, continued to cause tension. USAF aircraft were harassed as they flew in and out of the city. Throughout the Cold War years, Tempelhof was the main terminal for American military transport aircraft accessing West Berlin. In 1971 one of the pilots during the Berlin Airlift, and the original Candy Bomber, Gail Halvorsen, returned to Berlin as the commander of Tempelhof airbase.

With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany, the presence of American forces in Berlin ended. The USAF 7350th Air Base Group at Tempelhof was deactivated in June 1993. In July 1994, with President Clinton in attendance, the British, French, and American air and land forces in Berlin were deactivated in a ceremony on the Four Ring Parade field at Tempelhof in accordance with the Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany. The Western Allies returned a united city of Berlin to the unified German government.

The U.S. Army closed its Berlin Army Aviation Detachment at TCA in August 1994, ending a 49-year American military presence in Berlin.

Postwar commercial use

American Overseas Airlines (AOA), at the time the overseas division of American Airlines, inaugurated the first commercial air link serving Tempelhof after the war with a flight from New York via Shannon, Amsterdam and Frankfurt on 18 May 1946. This was followed by AOA's inauguration of West Berlin's first dedicated domestic air link between Tempelhof and Frankfurt's Rhein-Main Airport on 1 March 1948.

AOA had the distinction of being the only commercial operator at Tempelhof to maintain its full flying programme for the entire duration of the Berlin Blockade (26 June 1948 – 12 May 1949).

On 25 September 1950, Pan American World Airways (Pan Am) acquired AOA from American Airlines. This merger resulted in Pan Am establishing a growing presence at Tempelhof. Air France resumed operations to Tempelhof following their cessation during the war years.

From then on, several of the new, wholly privately owned UK independent airlines and US supplemental ("non-sked") carriers commenced regular air services to Tempelhof from the UK, the US and West Germany. These airlines initially carried members of the UK and US armed forces stationed in Berlin and their dependants as well as essential raw materials, finished goods manufactured in West Berlin and refugees from East Germany and Eastern Europe, who were still able to freely enter the city prior to the construction of the infamous Berlin Wall, on their flights. This operation was also known as the second Little Berlin Airlift. One of these airlines, UK independent Dan-Air Services (operating as Dan-Air London), would subsequently play an important role in developing commercial air services from Tegel for a quarter century.

During the early to mid-1950s, BEA leased in aircraft that were bigger than its Tempelhof-based fleet of Pionair, Viking and Elizabethan piston-engined airliners from other operators to boost capacity, following a steady increase in the airline's passenger loads..

In 1958, BEA began replacing its ageing piston airliners with brand-new, state-of-the-art Vickers Viscount 800 series turboprop aircraft. These aircraft's greater range and higher cruising speed enabled BEA to inaugurate a non-stop London Heathrow – Berlin Tempelhof service on 1 November 1965.

On 19 November 1959, a Pan Am DC-4 became the first aircraft to operate a scheduled all-cargo service from West Berlin. This service linked Tempelhof with Rhein-Main Airport once-nightly, all year round.

On 2 January 1960, Air France, which had served Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Munich and its main base at Paris Le Bourget/Orly during the previous decade with DC-4, Sud-Est Languedoc and Lockheed Constellation piston-engined equipment, shifted its entire Berlin operation to Tegel because Tempelhof's runways were too short to permit the introduction of the Sud-Aviation Caravelle, the French flag carrier's new short-haul jet, with a viable payload. (Air France's Caravelle IIIs lacked thrust reversers that would have permitted them to land safely on Tempelhof's short runways with a full commercial payload.)

On 1 March 1960, Pan Am launched its second dedicated scheduled all-cargo flight from Berlin, linking Tempelhof with Hamburg Fuhlsbüttel.

1960 was also the year Pan Am re-equipped its Tempelhof-based fleet with larger, pressurised Douglas DC-6B propliners. The first of these joined Pan Am's Berlin fleet on 27 June of that year. Although the DC-6B was a less advanced aircraft than either the Viscount or the Caravelle, it was more economical. By the early 1960s, Pan Am had a fleet of 15 DC-6Bs stationed at its Tempelhof base, which were configured in a higher-density seating arrangement than competing airlines' aircraft. (Pan Am's DC-6Bs were originally configured in a 76-seat, all-economy layout. The subsequent introduction of subsidies for all scheduled internal German services from/to West Berlin resulted in steady network growth as well as service frequency and passenger load increases. To cope with the sharply higher traffic volumes, aircraft seat densities were increased twice – initially to 84 and subsequently 87 seats.

Following the completion of the Berlin Wall on 13 August 1961, the West German government introduced a route-specific subsidy of up to 20% for all internal German scheduled air services from and to West Berlin to help the airlines cope with the resulting falloff in traffic and maintain an economically viable operation on these routes.

On 2 December 1964, a Boeing 727-100 became the first jet aircraft to land at Tempelhof. Boeing had leased the aircraft to Pan Am for a special flight from Frankfurt to Berlin to demonstrate to the airline the 727's ability to operate from Tempelhof's short runways. Pan Am indicated its intention to place an order for six 727s for its Berlin operation, as a result of the aircraft using only half the 5900 ft runway during landing.

On 29 January 1966, BEA began evaluating the BAC One-Eleven's suitability for its Berlin operations, with the start of a series of test flights conducted on its behalf by BAC's 400 series demonstrator. This included a number of takeoffs and landings at Tempelhof to test the aircraft's short-field performance. These aircraft were configured in a single class featuring 128 economy seats. BEA responded to Pan Am's competitive threat by increasing the Berlin-based fleet to 13 Viscounts by winter 1966/7 to enable it to offer higher frequencies. This also entailed re-configuring aircraft cabins in a lower-density seating arrangement, as a result of which the refurbished cabins featured only 53, Comet-type first-class seats in a four-abreast layout instead of 66, five-abreast economy seats. In addition, BEA sought to differentiate itself from its main competitor by providing a superior in-flight catering standard. (BEA's Silver Star service included complimentary hot meals on all flights whereas Pan Am merely offered free on-board snacks. Sections of the local press dubbed the contrasting strategies of the two main protagonists plying the internal German routes from Berlin – estimated to be worth £15-20m in annual revenues – the Dinner oder Düsen? (Dinner or Jet?) battle.) Henceforth, the airline marketed these services as Super Silver Star. This measure was therefore only a stopgap until most of BEA's Berlin fleet was equipped with BAC One-Eleven 500s. (Air France, West Berlin's third scheduled carrier, which had suffered a continuous traffic decline ever since the transfer of Berlin operations to more distant Tegel at the beginning of 1960 due to Tempelhof's operational limitations that made it unsuitable for its Caravelles, was worst affected by the equipment changes at the latter airport during the mid- to late 1960s. Over this period, the French airline's market share halved from 9% to less than 5% despite having withdrawn from Tegel–Düsseldorf in summer 1964 and concentrated its limited resources on Tegel–Frankfurt and Tegel–Munich to maximise the competitive impact on the latter two routes. To reverse growing losses on its Berlin routes, Air France decided to withdraw from the internal German market entirely and instead enter into a joint venture with BEA. This arrangement entailed the latter taking over the former's two remaining German domestic routes to Frankfurt and Munich and operating these with its own aircraft and flightdeck crews from Tempelhof. The Air France-BEA joint venture became operational in spring 1969 and terminated in autumn 1972.)

On 1 September 1968, BEA began replacing its Berlin-based Viscounts with the new One-Eleven 500s, which it called the Super One-Eleven. These aircraft featured a 97-seat, single-class configuration.). This represented more than 90% of West Berlin's commercial air traffic and made its iconic city centre airport Germany's second-largest. With 3½ million passengers, Pan Am accounted for the bulk of this traffic To ensure investment protection as well as to fend off opposition to Schönefeld International's expansion, it was mandated that first Tempelhof and then Tegel must be closed. On December 4, 2007, the Federal Administrative Court of Germany (Bundesverwaltungsgericht) made the final decision as court of last instance to close Tempelhof Airport.

Referendum against closing

An initiative for a nonbinding referendum against the closure was held and failed, after the initial number of signatures required were collected. According to the constitution of the state of Berlin, the number of supportive signatures that were required to be collected within four months in order to compel a referendum amounts to 7% of the population of Berlin entitled to vote, or 169,784. The four months period for the collection of signatures at the Berlin district townhalls ended on 14 February 2008. 203,408 signatures were lodged. The referendum was held on 27 April 2008. All eligible voters received an information brochure along with their notification. A majority of the votes was necessary to support the referendum, but this had to be at least one quarter of all eligible Berlin voters.

The initiative for keeping Tempelhof open was supported by the ICAT (Interessengemeinschaft City-Airport Tempelhof) along with a couple of opposition parties in the Berlin city parliament: the Christian Democratic Union and the Free Democratic Party citing primarily the need for an inner-city airport for business and private flyers as well as nostalgic reasons. On the weekend of 8/9 May 2010, the outfield was festively opened as Berlin's largest public park named "Tempelhofer Feld". More than 200,000 Berliners visited the park to enjoy its wide open spaces for recreation ranging from biking and skating to baseball and kiting. The opening ceremonies were slightly marred by some protesters unhappy about the fence that closes off the park during the night. Entrance is free and park hours are from 6 a.m. until sunset. The grounds are maintained by Grün Berlin, a company that also looks after several other gated parks in Berlin. The Tempelhof fields will be used as a park indefinitely. This is manifested for instance by plans to host the 2017 IGA, Germany’s world horticultural exhibition.

About 80% of the former airfield was an important habitat for several redlisted birds, plants and insects. Usage of the park is restricted to limit disturbance of some of these habitats.

Accidents and incidents

On 29 April 1952, an Air France Douglas C-54A (registration F-BELI) operating a scheduled service from Frankfurt Rhein-Main Airport to Berlin Tempelhof came under sustained attack from two Soviet MiG 15 fighters while passing through one of the Allied air corridors over East Germany. Although the attack had severely damaged the plane, necessitating the shutdown of engines number three and four, the pilot in command of the aircraft managed to carry out a safe emergency landing at Tempelhof Airport. A subsequent inspection of the aircraft's damage at Tempelhof revealed that it had been hit by 89 shots fired from the Soviet MiGs during the preceding air attack. There were no fatalities among the 17 occupants (six crew, 11 passengers) despite the severity of the attack. The Soviet military authorities defended this attack on an unarmed civilian aircraft by claiming the Air France plane was outside the air corridor at the time of attack.

On 19 January 1953, a Silver City Airways Bristol 170 Freighter Mark 21 (registration: G-AICM) operating a non-scheduled cargo flight from West Berlin crash-landed near Tempelhof Airport as a result of fuel starvation when bad weather at the destination forced it to return to Berlin. Although the accident damaged the aircraft beyond repair, both pilots survived.

In 1978, a LOT Polish Airlines Tupolev TU-134 operating an international scheduled service from Warsaw to East Berlin via Gdańsk was hijacked on the flight's Gdańsk – East Berlin leg and forced to land at Tempelhof. The US military authorities who were in charge of Tempelhof during the Cold War era arrested the East German hijacker on arrival. At that time, he was expected to be sentenced and tried by a US military court. Following the hijacker's arrest, the US authorities returned the aircraft, its crew and those passengers who wished to resume their journey to Poland.

In 1981, a LOT Polish Airlines Antonov AN-24 operating an internal scheduled service from Katowice to Gdańsk was hijacked en route and forced to land at Tempelhof. Bernard Pietka, the hijacker, was on military service while taking over the aircraft. He was armed with a grenade and a single-shot pistol. The US military authorities arrested the hijacker on arrival and handed him over to the local police. At that time, he was expected to be sentenced to a five-year prison term under West German law. Following the hijacker's arrest, the US authorities released the aircraft, its crew and all 50 passengers to resume their flight to Gdańsk.

On 26 June 2010, a private Socata TB 10 Tobago had to perform an emergency landing on the now closed Tempelhof Airport due to engine failure. It was on a sightseeing flight and the pilot was looking for a free space to land safely. The machine was occupied by the pilot and three passengers and had taken off from Tegel Airport. Upon consultation with air traffic control in Schönefeld, it was agreed to land on a Tempelhof runway. No one was injured during the emergency landing as the visitors of the now Tempelhofer Park scurried aside to make room for the TB 10, which came to a halt after a very short distance. Four days later, the Socata TB 10 Tobago was transported – with wings removed – by lorry back to Tegel airport. The Senate of Berlin now intends to prohibit sightseeing flights over Berlin by single-engine planes for safety reasons. It has been reported that the pilot had forgotten to switch over to the second fuel tank.

See also

  • Nazi architecture
  • Berlin Brandenburg Airport

Notes and Citations



  • (various backdated issues relating to commercial air transport at Berlin Tempelhof during the Allied period from 1950 until 1990)
  • (Aircraft Illustrated online) ISSN 0002-2675
  • Schmitz, Frank. Flughafen Tempelhof: Berlins Tor zur Welt. Berlin: be.bra, 1997.
  •  : Berlin-Tempelhof. In: Berlin-Tempelhof, Liverpool-Speke, Paris-Le Bourget. Années 30 Architecture des aéroports, Airport Architecture of the Thirties, Flughafenarchitektur der dreißiger Jahre. Éditions du patrimoine, Paris 2000, , pp. 32–61.
  • Bob Hawkins (Hrsg.): Historic airports. Proceedings of the international "L'Europe de l'Air" conferences on Aviation Architecture Liverpool (1999), Berlin (2000), Paris (2001). English Heritage, London 2005, .
  • Heeb, Christine. "A multifaceted monument – the complex heritage of Tempelhof Central Airport", Master of Arts thesis in World Heritage Studies, Brandenburg University of Technology Cottbus, 2007 (pdf)

External links