The last plane at Tegel Airport is scheduled to take off for Paris on November 8. Is that it then? Not quite: There have long been plans for the airport site.
Visitors to the Reichstag dome can regularly observe the planes taking off from Tegel into the sky above Berlin. For some, such scenes have become nostalgic. Because when the Capital Airport BER opens as planned at the end of October, the old Tegel Airport will have to close. The fact that it will still be in operation at all is only due to the unprecedented series of breakdowns in the construction of BER, which has led to the new airport in Schönefeld, Brandenburg, taking off with a delay of nine years.
In the meantime, many Berliners were delighted to be able to continue traveling with boarding passes on which the familiar airport code TXL could be read. Some even still consider the airport in the northwest of Berlin indispensable, even though it has long since burst at the seams. Similar to Munich-Riem Airport, which was closed back in 1992 and is now home to the New Munich Trade Fair Centre.
When an airfield was built in Tegel in 1948, shortly after the beginning of the Berlin Blockade, in 90 days, which is hard to believe today, it was not foreseeable that it would become the gateway to the world for the people in the western part of the city. The first airliner did not land until January 1960.
The airport architecture with which Berliners are familiar today was designed by the architects Meinhard von Gerkan and Volkwin Marg. In the competition for Tegel, they scored points with
its unusual terminal, designed as a hexagon. Construction began in 1970 and the terminal was inaugurated four years later. Since then, until the onset of the Corona crisis, the number of passengers has risen almost continuously and has reached dimensions that were hardly imaginable at the start of construction: Last year, there were around 24 million.
Whether the British Queen Elizabeth II, statesmen like Barack Obama or Wladmimir Putin, stars like Marlene Dietrich or Renée Zellweger, for their visits to Berlin they floated in from Tegel. Just like national team captain Philipp Lahm, who got off the plane with the shiny gold trophy in his hand after winning the World Cup in Brazil in July 2014.
“That was a very emotional moment for many fans in Germany, including me personally,” the head of Flughafen Berlin Brandenburg GmbH, Engelbert Lütke Daldrup, recently confessed to journalists. And there are many such emotional memories of Tegel Airport. “But Tegel has become much too small and no longer meets the standards of a modern airport,” he said. “Anyone who has ever stood in line at Terminal C at six in the morning with 1500 people at the security desk knows what I am talking about.
FDP against airport closure
Many see it that way, but not everyone. Berlin’s FDP faction leader Sebastian Czaja, for example, considers the planned closure a big mistake: “As a city airport it is not only an unbeatable location advantage for Berlin as a business and trade fair location, it is also a relief program for the apparently dysfunctional BER.
Czaja has fought for years to preserve the airport. Together with the Pro Tegel association, the Berlin FDP launched a corresponding initiative in 2015. In a referendum, which did not, however, oblige the Senate to keep the airport open, the issue received almost one million votes in 2017 and thus a narrow majority. All in vain.
The last day with regular flight operations is scheduled for November 7. The following day, another Air France Airbus A320 will take off for Paris in the afternoon. This brings us full circle: scheduled flights began with the French airline in 1960.
But even many Berliners who did not want to fly at all were drawn to Tegel time and again. Some of them only wanted to see planes take off from the visitors’ terrace during the time the city was divided, and soon afterwards they were allowed to land in the West. Lütke Daldrup said that Tegel was also a symbol for the freedom of West Berlin. Because of the Corona crisis, the Visitors’ Terrace was closed for months. Since last weekend it is open again – until November 7.
If the airport is really closed by then, TXL should not disappear. In the future, the abbreviation will stand for a project that has yet to be built: a new city quarter with over 5,000 apartments and space for more than 10,000 people, right next to a research and industrial park with the futuristic sounding name Urban Tech Republic. The state-owned Tegel Projekt GmbH, which is responsible for development, wants to bring together founders, students, investors, industrialists and scientists there.
The Urban Tech Republic is to accommodate up to 1000 companies and institutes. The existing Terminal A is intended to be used as a university location. The houses in the new, largely car-free Schumacher Quarter are to be built in timber construction. At so-called mobility hubs, residents will be able to switch from cars to bicycles or public transport.
This is still a dream of the future. Tegel will have to remain operational for six months anyway, and Tegel Projekt GmbH will not take over the site until summer 2021. The first work is scheduled to begin in the same year. GmbH Managing Director Philipp Bouteiller expects the first residents in the Schumacher Quarter in 2026 – and 20 to 30 years for the entire project. If the construction period is not unexpectedly extended. Berlin is used to a lot there.