Tempelhof Airport: Fading Memories of The Berlin Airlift of 1948-49

Sometimes you can read a city though a cultural landmark, and for years Berlin’s historic beacon has been Tempelhof Airport. As the 60th anniversary of the historic, American-led airlift to deliver food and supplies to the besieged capital approaches, Berlin’s mayor is going ahead with plans to close the airport by year’s end. Sadly, last-minute campaign by his political opponents to save it through a citywide referendum late last month won a majority, but not enough Berliners turned out to make the vote official.

Once the site of a Prussian parade ground, where Orville Wright showed off his flying machines, “the mother of all airports,” as the architect Norman Foster has called Tempelhof, was one of the world’s first commercial airfields. During the 1930s, Tempelhof was enlarged for Adolf Hitler into what was then the largest building in Europe, a triumphal entrance into the new Germany, right in the very heart of Berlin.

And there it still stands, a short 15-minute taxi ride from the Brandenburg Gate, dozing in the spring sun, the finest work of Berlin architecture surviving from that era. A soaring, light-filled, surprisingly welcoming space, now the main terminal now serves only a dozen or so short-haul commercial flights a day. Most of the huge building, which stretches for blocks, is empty today. But it’s still a glorious time capsule of mid-century, with towering windows, a 1950s neon sign for a defunct restaurant at one end, and a handful of lethargic employees slumped behind their desks, staring into the vastness or skimming the newspaper.

With America’s reputation currently in a nosedive in Germany, the Berlin airport stands as a reminder that American valor has had better days. On June 26, 1948, in response to the Soviet blockade of Berlin, C-47s began landing millions of tons of food, coal and other supplies in an operation centered at Tempelhof Airport. At its height, the airlift landed planes every 90 seconds in West Berlin, along the way dropping handkerchief parachutes of raisins and chocolate into the arms of children. The planes came to be called “Raisin bombers.”

The Berlin Airlift of 1948-1949

Read more from The New York Times here.

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