Have you ever wanted to walk on an airport runway? And I don’t mean those tiny little 4 min jaunts out the airplane doors, where air hostesses wave you on and make sure you walk between the lines. No, I mean, walking smack bang in the middle of the runway where the plans land. Well, I know I have always wanted to. And today, in Berlin, I fulfilled that dream.
Tempelhof is the old West Berlin airport and is an incredibly important part of modern Berlin history. Before it was an airport, it was a field where one of the major Nazi rallies took place in 1933 and, during the war it was a munitions factory with forced labour from many of the occupied countries. As an airport, it ceased operations in 2008. Since then, it has been converted into a massive park. There are many interesting things to be found in the park: community gardens, art installations, softball fields, but most delightfully odd of all, the park has kept the old runways of the airport.
Walking around the park/airport is an oddly beautiful experience. It is rare to see such open space in the middle of a city. Most inner-city parks have trees dotted everywhere – there is a conscious effort made to make the park look ‘natural’ and ‘full’. This hasn’t happened yet at Tempelhof. Instead of attempting to turn it into something it’s not, the Germans seem to be embracing the ‘abandoned urban landscape’ feeling of the place. Which is exciting and interesting and I wonder if it would happen in a place like London (I severely doubt that much open space would be left to lie dormant in space-limited London). I mean, let’s face it – there’s no escaping how tiny you are when walking around on an old airport. It’s like the German government went,’yes, ok, we’ll give you a park, but we will not let you enjoy it! You must experience existential angst and/or anxiety whilst at the park! YOU WILL NOT HAVE FUN!’ In all seriousness though, I feel that the Germans (and this might be me talking about my arse, after all I’ve only been here 2 days) are more prepared to embrace the urbanity of their city – they don’t prettify it in the way that I think London might. I have only been hanging out in the East though and I remember (from my last trip 9 years ago) that the West looked quite different. Plus, there are still plenty of traditional parks about – one right next to Tempelhof, in fact, that has all the overhanging trees and dark pathways that you could want.
Anyway, apart from the existential angst, the abandoned runways make for excellent kiteboarding, as you can see from this image from the opening of the park (found at: http://www.ota-berlin.de/blog/05/10/berlin-tempelhof-airport-opened-to-the-public-yesterday/):
It was slightly less warm and welcoming today, but I still saw two elegant kiteboarders surfing the tarmac.
Let me tell you – it takes a long time to walk around an airport, even a small one. By the end of my walk I was freezing and most parts of my body had politely retired from the game, requiring a brief stop on an old airport artefact of some description:
(It’s May. Look at that jacket. IT’S MAY, BERLIN. MAY. Maybe you’ve heard of it? Last month of Spring? Sheesh.)