Hundreds bid farewell to Berlin's Tempelhof airport

Wed Oct 29, 2008 1:55pm EDT
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By Josie Cox

BERLIN (Reuters) - Hundreds of people bade farewell on Wednesday to Tempelhof airport, a massive Nazi-built landmark in the heart of the German capital that served as a lifeline for West Berlin during the post-war Soviet blockade.

Dubbed "the mother of all airports" by architect Sir Norman Foster, Tempelhof dominates a huge stretch of land the size of New York's Central Park just south of the city center.

A functioning airstrip since 1923, its monolithic limestone terminal building was built by forced laborers between 1936 and 1941 on the orders of Hitler's architect Albert Speer.

The airport became a powerful symbol of the Cold War when Soviet forces prevented supplies from getting into West Berlin in 1948. The West responded by airlifting more than 2 million tons of food and other goods into Tempelhof for nearly a year.

It has continued to operate as a commercial airport, but its fate was sealed in April after a referendum to prevent its closure failed because of low turnout. Even Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke out against shutting it down.

The last planes will fly out of Tempelhof just before midnight on Thursday. It is unclear what will happen to the site, which still stirs strong emotions with many Berliners.

"I am 85 years old, as old as the airport itself. Now that the airport's time is up, mine may be too," said Ursula Wellnitz, gazing through the window at the landing strip as she wiped a tear from her cheek.

Wellnitz is one of hundreds of people, who traveled to the airport on Wednesday, to bid it a last farewell.   Continued...

<p>A so-called "Candy Bomber" DC-3 airplane boards passengers at the Tempelhof airport in Berlin, October 29, 2008. REUTERS/Tobias Schwarz</p>