19 December 2006

Airport in Court


Buildings ∕ Public Space

Berlin has three airports: Tegel, a cramped hexagon in the north-west of the city; Schoenefeld, a depressing barn somewhere in the misty south-east and closer to Poland than to the city center; and Tempelhof, a 1.2-kilometer long Nazi-built monolith which makes flying feel like flying again, and not like a bus journey.

Today a court is to decide whether or not Berlin’s semi-defunct Tempelhof International Airport will be closed or not. Twelve major airlines have taken the city to court over its decision to close down the airport, claiming it could actually be made profitable and useful. Berlin doesn’t think so, and is far too busy getting all frothy about the more exciting prospect of expanding Schoenefeld, and giving it the catchy new name ‘Airport Berlin Brandenburg International BBI’.

There’s nothing wrong with an expanded Schoenefeld: it’s currently a draughty shed, which, despite being quick and uncomplicated, is a desperately destressing way to arriving back home after a summer holiday. Low-cost european flights have a habit of landing at night in bad weather, minutes after the last train has left the brutally depressing railway station which is a convenient twenty-minute walk away from the terminal, and which looks more suited to the unloading of cattle.

Keeping Tempelhof as an airport is probably more practical than other suggestions which have included turning it into a park, or, weirdly, turning it into a clinic. A colleague of mine suggests converting Tempelhof into a huge check-in terminal for Schoenefeld, and then have a high-speed subway train take passengers to their planes waiting in Schoenefeld. And I think you could go a step further and convert Tempelhof into a chocolate factory fantasy-land with candyfloss trees and a whole lake filled with warm caramel, and then you could install flying glass elevators which take you to Spain for your holidays at the speed of sound, and then you could just scrap the plans for new airports completely. Now that’s what I call a sound business plan.