Taxiing for takeoff at Berlin’s Tempelhof

Berlin’s Tempelhof Airport might be closed to air traffic, but Roger Boyes, correspondent for British daily The Times, believes it could still help the German capital soar.

Taxiing for takeoff at Berlin's Tempelhof
Photo: DPA

Modern romance began with the film Casablanca. The smouldering saga of Bogart and Bergman had everything one needed to structure a 20th century emotional narrative: adultery, betrayal, forgiveness, jealousy, bribery and a spectacular parting.

I remember one horrific argument with a girlfriend in the 1970s which ended with her shouting: “I’m leaving the country – don’t try and follow me!” It was a line which surely would have earned a place in the sequel. But most of all I remember – as everybody does – the tragic departure in the airport.

Obviously, we all know that airport was not Berlin’s iconic Tempelhof, but every time I went to see someone off there I became a little bit more like Humphrey Bogart. It represented everything good about air travel and I don’t just mean the Berlin Airlift, that extraordinary model for humanitarian relief. Tempelhof was a reminder that Germany was at the spearhead of aeronautic innovation, and that Berlin used to be a creative hub for engineers, daring pilots, inventors, designers, pioneers.

If you need to refresh your memory, I can only urge you to visit the splendidly elegant Galerie Bassenge in Grunewald. It’s auction week there again and among the exhibits are original photographs, catalogues and old magazines that chart the beginnings of aviation in Germany.

Exactly 100 years ago, the first Deutsche Fliegerwoche was held on the airfield at Berlin-Johannisthal. Hubert Latham flew from Johannisthal to Tempelhofer Feld, building on the work of the Lilienthal brothers and the advances in Zeppelin technology. The first Internationale Luftfahrt-Ausstellung (ILA) air show was held in Frankfurt in 1909 but three years later, a much broader and exciting exhibition was being held in the halls next to the Berlin Zoo. Seven airships and 25 planes – it must have been huge.

All this largely forgotten history is recorded in the Bassenge exhibits. Those were the days when Germany really led the world and when hundreds of thousands of fascinated Berliners gathered in Tempelhof to watch Wilbur and Orville Wright fly round the field. The 20th century wars turned planes into weapons, but Berlin was still at the heart of aviation when the wars ended. Ullstein-Verlag and the BZ paper awarded huge prizes in the 1920s to German pilots – not because they were trying to subsidise a new air force for a new war but out of a love of sport and engineering achievement.

Now all that has been lost by closing Tempelhof as an airport last year. Yesterday’s news, you will say: the referendum has been lost, decisions taken. Well, I understand the city government’s plan for Schönefeld Airport, and I really do hope that it becomes a major East-West hub. But the plans for Tempelhof are the product of suburban minds, without flair: a housing estate, a park, a fashion fair.

Some of the most interesting ideas in circulation came from outside the closed circle favoured by the city. There’s the retired engineer Anton Heyne, for example, who has been trying to stir interest in having each major world religion (at its own cost) construct a house of worship on the Tempelhof premises. With a church, a mosque, a synagogue, and a Hindu temple operating is such close proximity, the faiths would be forced to interact.

This and other ideas are interesting but they also react only to Tempelhof as a very large urban space. What do you do with such emptiness? Fill it, of course, with big concepts. But many designers and planners are missing the point. Aeroplanes are the essence of Tempelhof. The referendum about its closure (however flawed) clinched the issue: it will never again be an airport. But Tempelhof could none the less upheld the spirit of flight, stay true to its history.

The obvious starting point is to make space available for a large – I would like to think Germany’s largest – aerospace museum. Real dynamism will only return to Tempelhof however if the ILA is shifted from Schönefeld to Tempelhof.

Next year will be the last in Schönefeld, because of the imminent opening of the new Berlin-Brandenburg International being built there. Though not currently in contention, Tempelhof is the perfect location, a reminder that there is continuity to German success.

The very first ILA a century ago lasted 100 days and attracted 1.5 million people. That is something to aim for – other big air shows, Farnborough in Britain, Le Bourget in Paris, attract major business deals but also help put financiers in touch with new ideas in aerospace.

Whatever happened to Cargolifter, the ambitious scheme to develop a new generation of freight airships? Zeppelins that could transport aid to earthquake zones? It went bankrupt, disappeared into the Brandenburg sand.

The Germans were once good at flying; now their wings have been clipped. Bring ILA back into the centre of the city, to an old airport that can still inspire the young, and maybe, just maybe, something will take off again in this city.

For more Roger Boyes, check out his website here.

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EXPLAINED: Berlin’s latest Covid rules

In response to rapidly rising Covid-19 infection rates, the Berlin Senate has introduced stricter rules, which came into force on Saturday, November 27th. Here's what you need to know.

A sign in front of a waxing studio in Berlin indicates the rule of the 2G system
A sign in front of a waxing studio indicates the rule of the 2G system with access only for fully vaccinated people and those who can show proof of recovery from Covid-19 as restrictions tighten in Berlin. STEFANIE LOOS / AFP

The Senate agreed on the tougher restrictions on Tuesday, November 23rd with the goal of reducing contacts and mobility, according to State Secretary of Health Martin Matz (SPD).

He explained after the meeting that these measures should slow the increase in Covid-19 infection rates, which was important as “the situation had, unfortunately, deteriorated over the past weeks”, according to media reports.

READ ALSO: Tougher Covid measures needed to stop 100,000 more deaths, warns top German virologist

Essentially, the new rules exclude from much of public life anyone who cannot show proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid-19. You’ll find more details of how different sectors are affected below.

If you haven’t been vaccinated or recovered (2G – geimpft (vaccinated) or genesen (recovered)) from Covid-19, then you can only go into shops for essential supplies, i.e. food shopping in supermarkets or to drugstores and pharmacies.

Many – but not all – of the rules for shopping are the same as those passed in the neighbouring state of Brandenburg in order to avoid promoting ‘shopping tourism’ with different restrictions in different states.

2G applies here, too, as well as the requirement to wear a mask with most places now no longer accepting a negative test for entry. Only minors are exempt from this requirement.

Sport, culture, clubs
Indoor sports halls will off-limits to anyone who hasn’t  been vaccinated or can’t show proof of recovery from Covid-19. 2G is also in force for cultural events, such as plays and concerts, where there’s also a requirement to wear a mask. 

In places where mask-wearing isn’t possible, such as dance clubs, then a negative test and social distancing are required (capacity is capped at 50 percent of the maximum).

Restaurants, bars, pubs (indoors)
You have to wear a mask in all of these places when you come in, leave or move around. You can only take your mask off while you’re sat down. 2G rules also apply here.

Hotels and other types of accommodation 
Restrictions are tougher here, too, with 2G now in force. This means that unvaccinated people can no longer get a room, even if they have a negative test.

For close-contact services, such as hairdressers and beauticians, it’s up to the service providers themselves to decide whether they require customers to wear masks or a negative test.

Football matches and other large-scale events
Rules have changed here, too. From December 1st, capacity will be limited to 5,000 people plus 50 percent of the total potential stadium or arena capacity. And only those who’ve been vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 will be allowed in. Masks are also compulsory.

For the Olympic Stadium, this means capacity will be capped at 42,000 spectators and 16,000 for the Alte Försterei stadium. 

3G rules – ie vaccinated, recovered or a negative test – still apply on the U-Bahn, S-Bahn, trams and buses in Berlin. It was not possible to tighten restrictions, Matz said, as the regulations were issued at national level.

According to the German Act on the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases, people have to wear a surgical mask or an FFP2 mask  on public transport.

Christmas markets
The Senate currently has no plans to cancel the capital’s Christmas markets, some of which have been open since Monday. 

According to Matz, 2G rules apply and wearing a mask is compulsory.

Schools and day-care
Pupils will still have to take Covid tests three times a week and, in classes where there are at least two children who test positive in the rapid antigen tests, then tests should be carried out daily for a week.  

Unlike in Brandenburg, there are currently no plans to move away from face-to-face teaching. The child-friendly ‘lollipop’ Covid tests will be made compulsory in day-care centres and parents will be required to confirm that the tests have been carried out. Day-care staff have to document the results.

What about vaccination centres?
Berlin wants to expand these and set up new ones, according to Matz. A new vaccination centre should open in the Ring centre at the end of the week and 50 soldiers from the German army have been helping at the vaccination centre at the Exhibition Centre each day since last week.

The capacity in the new vaccination centre in the Lindencenter in Lichtenberg is expected to be doubled. There are also additional vaccination appointments so that people can get their jabs more quickly. Currently, all appointments are fully booked well into the new year.