Rescue Tempelhof Airport

Support Tempelhof Airport become Part of the

UNESCO World Cultural Heritage


Why Tempelhof Airport should become part of the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage

Why Tempelhof Airport should become part of the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage

The cultural achievement

First airport of the world

In 1923 Tempelhof was the world´s first commercial airport. Before that, airfields at that time more or less provided experimental services for the still very young aviation industry.

In Tempelhof, pilots were not experimental guinea-pigs but conducted the first commercial flights. German Luft Hansa A.G. also began their flying operations here in 1926.

Third largest building of the world

It is well-known that in the Nazi-era, architecture was especially planned to be much larger than usual. In Germany nowadays we speak of the so called "Gigantomania" of this type of architecture. With 284,000 square meters of floor area, the building was the largest in the world at that time (in 1934), and today still holds third place.

The prognosis for passenger developments nevertheless were at that time already planned up to the year 2000. And this was then considered over-optimistic. At that time this was rather boldly planned, but because of this there was a good cause for building plenty of hangars and ample capacity for other facilities.

Structurally trailblazing

The existing main building was planned by Ernst Sagebiel, even though the original facility already existed. At that time people hardly had any experience with commercial aviation. Sagebiel also planned the airports of Stuttgart, Munich`s Muenchen-Riem and Vienna, but none of these are (in their original shape) in such good condition compared to Tempelhof.

Many architectural decisions from that time were nevertheless trailblazing for airports all over the world. Star architect Sir Norman Foster made the point that: Tempelhof is the "Mother of all Airports".

The partitioning of the building into several functional sections (approach, handling of baggage, departure- and landing section, a separate freight- and air mail range) is what is now to be seen on all the airports today. We also expect to find hotels and whole shopping malls in an airport, all of these were included in Tempelhof for the first time ever.

The question often arises as to the function of those remarkable stair towers on the building and the very unusual roof structure, but the idea was to use the airport roof as a grandstand for large meetings and parades. This function was never generally accepted. In order to offer entrance for 100.000 spectators, stairs were built alongside the building and 40 meters of steel girders loom out of the roof.

A Monument of the Worlds' History

Enthusiasm for technique in the "Golden Twenties"

It almost fell into oblivion that Berlin is one of the first centers of aviation history. Otto Lilienthal and many other aircraft manufacturers worked here. During the technological-euphoria of the 20´s of the last century, the decision was made to build Tempelhof as an airport within the city.

Representation was the main object of National Socialist architecture.

Although many people rather dislike to be reminded of this time, the Tempelhof Airport building clearly shows the influence of National Socialism. With the high halls lined with shell limestone, the ornamentation and its function as a parade and march past arena, it clearly stands for the hybris at that time. But we must also ask ouselves how easily people could be be impressed by this type of symbolism.

Place of refuge during the Second World War and of the arms industry and forced labour

Although the building was never completed at that time due to the war, it was nevertheless a place of refuge for many thousands of citizens during the Second World War.

The shelters and catacombs in its cellars and in addition, the autonomous water and power supply offered safe protection for the people. At the same time, this was also very useful for the arms industry. We also know that at the end of war, forced labourers in the railway tunnel of the airport were completing planes, which could roll directly to deployment.

Center of the Air Lift

In 1948, General Lucius D. Clay and Mayor Ernst Reuter made the courageous decision to supply Berlin by airlift, in order to break the Soviet blockade. European history would probably have looked much different, if the city of Berlin had fallen. The Airlift was the cornerstone for the good relationship of Germans and Americans for over 40 years and the beginning of a liberal Germany.

Tempelhof Airport was the logistic center of this airlift, which demanded large logistical achievements and also numerous victims amongst the Western Allies.

Scene of the Cold War

When West Berlin was an outpost of the west during the Cold War, the Airport played a central role. This was where the American information center for monitoring air and radio traffic of Eastern Europe was situated.


Tempelhof Airport is and always will be something special. Due to its special status for many decades it has been preserved in a condition, which can be found nowhere else in the world.

The Airport as a whole is already listed as a protected historic monument today.

To apply to UNESCO for the recognition of Tempelhof Airport as a World Heritage is a task for the City of Berlin, the German Federal Government and for all citizens of the world.

Article by Volker Perplies, republishing permitted under Creative Commons License Creative Commons-Lizenz