For the past few weeks now, Berlin has been plastered with a series of garish posters, each attempting to evoke an emotive and quasi-patriotic response from those who view them. One side rams the grammatically-incorrect message, ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’ down your throat, whilst the other documents a series of indignant characters speaking Berlinerisch. Friends recounted how, on visiting a cake-market in the tranquil outskirts of South-West Berlin, they were harranged with information by the S.P.D, intent on canvassing their support; apparently there was also a pro-closure band. One side has even gone so far as to pepper the city with huge transportable-billboards setting out their credo and demanding that we vote in the referendum on the issue on the 27th April. Well I might just do that.
The source of all this postering: Templehof Airport. For many years now, the Berlin city senate has been attempting to close both Templehof and Tegel airports and consolidate the city’s air traffic in Schoenefeld, far South East of the city centre. This is a fairly rational plan of action: a larger Schoenfeld would create more jobs, make more money and keep air pollution out of densely populated residential areas.
Why you might ask, then, do so many people want to keep Templehof open? Partly manipulation and partly misunderstanding I would suggest.
Templehof was the main centre of the Berlin Airlift of 1948 when Russia shut off the power and natural resources to the Western part of the city in an attempt to force the allies to concede it. Not to be outdone, the allies flew in 16,000 tonnes of resources and kept the city going for a whole year. 72 pilots died in this magnificent effort and they are rightly remembered by the Luftbruecke Denkmal at Platz der Luftbruecke (just 200 metres from the main terminal building.)
The C.D.U posters all seek to emphasise this. Strangely invoking J.F.K’s gaffe, they state boldly, ‘Ich bin Berliner.’ If needlessly clinging to a knackered-out airport is a pre-requisite of Berlinerness, it’s not much of an aspiration. Further, one demands, ‘Weltstadt oder Provinz?’ I wasn’t aware that having an ailing loss-making airport in the middle of a residential area was a hard-and-fast way to gain super-city status; I’ll let Ken Livingstone know.
Unsuprisingly, this ‘Westalgie’ was evinced in the demographic of the people who signed the petition to keep it. Eastern districts such as Marzahn and Lichtenberg barely figured on the petition, whereas every man and his dog in Schoeneberg seemed to have given their name to it.
Whilst this is all well and good, it provides no real reason as to why Templehof should stay open as a commercial airport. It runs at a loss of tens of millions per year, and only provides flights to Brussels and a few minor German airports. Closing the airport and hosting a museum in the terminal building – as the Rot-Rot senate is suggesting seems like a far saner idea, and it allows the city to proudly display its history – a few knackered-out jets and expensive cafes does not.
Further, the site offers scope for a so-called ‘green lung’, unknown in major cities. The utilisation of such a space would bring major clout to Berlin’s claim to being a ‘green’ city – something attempted by, for example, the pledge to make the Reichstag carbon neutral by 2009.
So viva Berlin, yes, but Berliners don’t need a handfull of loss-making flights to do so.