Berliners have said a fond farewell to one of the last symbols of the city’s post-war division, with the closure of the airport that for decades was their gateway to the free world.
Tegel was more than just an airport, it was a vital lifeline for West Berlin, which at the end of WWII was surrounded by communist controlled areas and the subject of a long blockade by Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union.
In 1975, a year after the opening of a new hexagonal terminal, Tegel became Berlin’s busiest airport. It remained that way until well after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, taking 60 per cent of the city’s air traffic by 2016.
But the opening of the Berlin Brandenburg Airport last year sealed Tegel’s fate, with the land 8km north-west of the centre of the city now earmarked for a multi-billion euro technology park and one of the largest inner-city development projects in Europe.
Berlin Mayor Michael Müller told Central News: “This was our airport and in the middle of the city, an airport of short distances, and therefore it is also understandable that many Berliners are still very attached to this old airport Tegel.
“I’m a West Berliner and for us West Berliners that was simply our airport, from here you started in the world.
“That was at the time of the wall, not so simple. When one was travelling by car, one had to go through the DDR (Deutsche Democratic Republic), had border control, and many decided consciously afterwards and said, ‘no – I want to fly’, and then of course, you flew from Tegel airport.”
Tegel airport was built in 1948 in just 90 days during the Berlin Blockade. Only a concerted airlift by Allied countries, lasting 11 months and involving several hundred planes flying in at times over a hundred thousand tonnes of food and other supplies a day, prevented the western part of the city being abandoned to the Soviets.
In 2019, a record-high of more than 24 million passengers passed through the airport. And while more than half of Berlin voted to keep Tegel open despite the new Berlin Brandenburg airport being developed, it was ultimately economics, technology and changing times that contributed to its demise.
Tegel’s past was celebrated at a dinner on the runway last Saturday with a message to the world, ‘BERLIN LOVES YOU’ – created by the 3,000 guests seated at tables for a last dinner.
While many shed a tear, the Berlin Freedom Dinner was both a celebration of the airport’s past and a new beginning as Tegel will be transformed into a research and industrial park for urban technologies (Urban Tech Park) and a living quarter.
“It is an event for us that is something special, because it is another farewell to Tegel but also the new beginning for a new quarter which arises in Tegel with a trade industry and university area, on the other side apartments and also a lot of green areas,” said Lütke Daldrup, Boss of Berlin Brandenburg airport.
Live music and entertainment including jazz, world music, tap dancing and a drum band entertained the guests throughout the evening.
“Adieu Tegel, a pity that you’re no longer there as an airport,” said Anna Haase, a Berlin tour guide.
The evening ended with heavy rain – as if Tegel airport itself was saying its final goodbye.
Main image: © Messe Berlin/supplied