Airport project sparks controversy in Berlin
TWIG - A project to turn Berlin into an air transport hub got a major boost when officials announced that Germany’s capital city will get a new international airport by 2010, but some Berliners say that the city’s historic Tempelhof airport shouldn’t be sacrificed to the march of progress.
Tempelhof, a regional airport that was the lifeline to West Berlin during the airlift of 1948-49, is scheduled to be closed this October under Mayor Klaus Wowereit’s master plan to consolidate air traffic at East Berlin’s Schoenefeld airport.
The plan, approved by authorities last week after years of wrangling, provides for the 1.7bn Eur ($2.1bn) transformation of Schoenefeld into an international hub.
City officials say the revamped airport will attract long-haul flights, and eventually more investors and tourists, to Berlin.
"Berlin and the region need a single airport to ensure our integration into the international air transport system," said a delighted Wowereit, touting the new airport as "the biggest and most important infrastructure project for the region’s economic development."
Once the revamped Schoenefeld airport is up and running, the city’s current international gateway, Tegel, will also be shut.
While moves to shut the already over-stretched Tegel airport have provoked little opposition, an unlikely coalition of architects, historians and business travellers has launched a fierce lobbying effort to keep Tempelhof in operation.
Travellers know the airport as one of the most convenient in Europe, where passengers step off planes and into the city within a matter of minutes. But beyond its central location and flier-friendly layout, it is the building’s central role in German history that has thousands of Berliners demanding its preservation.
Visitors to Berlin would have trouble overlooking the vast 81-year-old airport, which sits on a sprawling site near the city center.
Under the Nazi regime, Tempelhof was expanded from a modest airfield into a imposing complex that was once regarded the second-largest structure in the world. Sir Norman Foster, the British architect, has called it "the mother of all airports."
Later, it became known as a symbol of freedom for the crucial role it played in the allies’ efforts to supply Berlin with food and essentials after Stalin closed all land routes into the city in the aftermath of World War II.
While its runway is too small to accommodate planes larger than regional jets, nearly half a million passengers and 20 airlines used the airport during the past year. One of those airlines has even offered to buy Tempelhof.
But Wowereit, fed up with the airport’s annual 16 million Eur losses ($19.8 million), has turned the offer down.
Tempelhof supporters have nonetheless pledged to fight to
the last to see it preserved. They argue that the airport is simply badly
managed by city authorities who have been trying to shut it down it for over
a decade — and that it can thrive once its future is no longer in doubt.
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