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Berlin's ghost airport vote approaches

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Berlin's ghost airport vote approaches
Tempelhofer Feld is now a popular public space. Photo: DPA
08:43 CEST+02:00
Berliners going to election polling stations on May 25th will be asked to decide on the fate of the former Tempelhof airport, now a huge park. The Local takes a look at the arguments for and against building on it.

A campaign triggered the referendum on city plans to build a swathe of housing and a library around the outside of the field which has over the past few years, become a hugely popular public space.

Although city developers have promised at least some of the housing being planned would be made available for renting, and would be affordable, this has been met with scepticism - and an active campaign has been launched to prevent the whole concept.

Kerstin Meyer volunteers at the 100 Prozent Tempelhofer Feld campaign office. She told The Local the basic aim was to force through a law which would keep the field in public hands, and prevent the buildings being constructed.

An electoral mountain to climb

But, the 44-year-old development economist said there was also a wider aim which was to involve more people in decisions about how Berlin develops.

The figures are intimidating - in order to get the law enacted, the 'Yes' campaign has to secure votes from at least a quarter of all those entitled to vote - not just those who turn out on the day. That's 630,000 votes, said Meyer.

"The Social Democrats, the party in majority power got 420,000 votes in the last election," she said.

The turnout at European elections is usually pretty low - and the referendum is piggy-backing onto them, making it largely dependent on them.

She said the campaign was not against all development on the field. "There are many buildings on the field which are closed to the public, such as the old utility buildings from the airport," she said.

"We would like to see those developed and used for things such as childcare, or other community-related projects."

Meyer also said there were huge police station buildings near the airport which could be converted into housing at much less cost than the proposed new constructions. The police currently using them could be moved into the airport building proper, she suggested.

GALLERY: Tempelhof airport through the years

Better public involvement needed

The future of the enormous Tempelhof airport building has still not been satisfactorily decided, she added.

"We want to make a change in how the city discusses development. And the next discussion will be about what to do with the building, it is very important."

She also criticized the way city development was being run in Berlin, describing it as a closed shop, with not enough public participation.

But Berlin's city development minister Michael Müller told Tagesspiegel newspaper this week, there had been plenty of consultation with the public.

He also said the plan was emphatically not to build a "soulless suburb, nor a big estate".

"For €6 [rent] per square metre we will not be able to finance luxury architecture with windows down to the floor, bay windows and stucco," he said. "We want to create affordable living space, which is attractive and liveable."

Flats affordable for all

And he insisted that such rental prices would be payable even by those on the lowest form of social support. "This is also what we want: in the city where everyone is flooding in, we will build bus and train connections, schools, day care centres and cafes, and as many flats as possible, for people from all social levels - in this amazing area, under the aegis of the state and without privatizing the land."

The land will be sold to state-owned bodies and the proceeds will be used to finance the public building works.

He dismissed the opposition, saying it was based on emotion.

"We need to build, and to build here, because it is exactly here that we urgently need affordable housing," he said.

Foreigners cannot vote in the Tempelhofer Field referendum - even if they can vote in the European Union election. But they can talk about it with their German friends and try to make sure they vote one way or the other.

SEE ALSO: Future of Berlin Airlift site hangs in balance

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