Architecture of the airport

The Berlin Tempelhof airport planned and almost completed in the period of National Socialism is believed to have met the then state-of-the-art airport construction as the “world airport” but at the same time also served as a propagandistic self-portrayal of the NS regime. 

Architectural history

As early as the beginning of 1930s, the previous building, the airport constructed in several stages on the premises of the Tempelhof field from 1923 to 1929, reached the limits of its capacity and technical ability due to the rapidly growing passenger volume. It urgently required an expansion. Plans began after the take-over of the Nazis in the year 1933, who were encouraged by Adolf Hitler. In 1934, he arranged for the construction of the airport and set the course for a dual use as civil and military airport. He had already arranged for urban connection to the North-South axis, which he already had in sight for the German capital within the framework of his redevelopment plans. 

The Reich Air Ministry under the leadership of Hermann Göring undertook the financing and was the builder of the project. In 1935, Ernst Sagebiel received the order for designing the new airport after been given its plans to become the responsibility of Berliner Flughafengesellschaft. Sagebiel, whose work in the Reich Air Ministry began at the end of 1933, made a rapid career there with numerous buildings for the Air Force and especially made his mark because of the planning of the Reich Air Ministry. In the spring of 1936, the construction for the Airport Tempelhof began. After the initial speedy progress - the first building section was already constructed in the year of the topping-out ceremony 1937 - construction work came to a halt due to the war. The opening intended for 1939 could no longer take place.

Airport facility

The airport facility comprises an elliptical airfield and an impressive complex of buildings arranged at the northwest edge. The entire facility is axially aligned to Karl Friedrich Schinkel’s Kreuzberg monument of 1821, a place of national midsummer festival during the time of the Nazis. Originally, an architectural link was planned between the airport and the monument by means of a cascade flowing down from Kreuzberg. The waterfall should end at a place in front of the airport building flanked by two obelisks. Here a magnificent fountain was planned. The objective to establish a direct connection to the planned North-South axis was already specified in the planning phase. 

The complex of buildings comprises different elements arranged one behind the other: The originally planned circular public square is surrounded by four-storey wings, which are believed to undertake the administration of Deutschen Lufthansa and Berlin airport companies well as the departments of Reich Air Ministry. The buildings surround a forecourt of 90 m length, which leads to the monumental reception building. The longitudinal terminal building of 18 m height follows the transverse building. The arch of the hangars and the gates structured by fortified stair towers of 1,230 m length forms the end of the buildings. There exist models similar to the striking arch - competition designs of the previous building of the Tempelhof airport and of Munich-Oberwiesenfeld airport from 1920s and the reception building of the Hamburg-Fuhlsbüttel airport set up from 1926 to 1928 according to the design of Friedrich Dyrssen and Peter Averhoff.

Monumentality and modernism

The ambivalence of monumentality and modernism is the characteristic of the architecture of the Tempelhof airport. All the facades facing the city are decorated with natural stone made of Tengen shell limestone; the light Jura limestone deposits on window frames and cornices. Besides, the front side grants the entrance buildings, arcades, block-like arrangement of windows as well as sculptures and reliefs a representative character. However the buildings have a then highly modern reinforced concrete skeleton construction, which is hidden by a heavy stone façade.

On the contrary, modern pure steel structure of the arch can be seen on the side facing the airfield on the far side of the city. The 380 m long gate in its centre and the lateral hangars are extended with a support-free technically advanced cantilever construction. Although the NS propaganda treated the “new construction” with hostility, the industrial and transportation buildings followed the principles of New Objectivity with regard to material selection and construction techniques at that time. Only the building sections important for external effect such as facades and entrance areas were designed monumentally and at the same time traditionally in accordance with the representation ambitions of the National Socialites.

This ambivalence also came across in the interior of the airport buildings. On the one hand, practical office sections characterised by functionality were provided and on the other hands rooms with monumental impression such as the reception hall with its enormous height. Even the unfinished check-in hall had received a representative appearance owing to its wall pillars, marble flooring and a flight of steps with massive groups of sculptures. Indoors and outdoors, the buildings were designed artistically and lavishly with sculptures, reliefs, mosaics and stained glasses. Murals and windows were moved to the circular buildings from this art program. Walter E. Lemcke, one of the many artists employed during the NS period, created a six metre high martial sculpture of an eagle on a globe with a massive Swastika, which was enthroned on the roof of the reception building. He designed contemporary aggressive-looking eagle reliefs for the facades of the buildings in the circular space.

The incomplete airport

Due to the Second World War, important elements of the airport could not be completed. For example the stair towers remained incomplete, which were supposed to serve as gateways to the stands for more than 80000 spectators planned on the roof of the facility for air shows of the Air Force requested by Hitler among other things. Even the planned cascade, the essential part of the large border of the roundabout with administrative buildings and control tower could no longer be realised. During the war, the hangars and the transit tunnel crossing the building underground were used for arms production. “Weser” Flugzeugbau GmbH manufactured warplanes there, especially the dive bomber Ju 87, by employing foreign forced labourers. The flight operation was carried out via the old airport of 1920s until the end of the war located amidst the new airfield, whose building was destroyed in the post-war period due to bombing. In April 1945, the Soviet Army at first occupied the Airport Tempelhof and then handed it over to the American Allied Forces in July. Only then was the air traffic resumed in the new airport facility now gradually expanded that was previously not badly damaged.

 

St. Endlich, M. Geyler-von Bernus, B. Rossié

Literature

Elke Dittrich, Ernst Sagebiel. Life and work 1892 - 1970, Berlin 2005

Elke Dittrich, Airport Tempelhof in design drawings and models 1935 - 1944, Berlin 2005

Gabi Dolff-Bonekämper, Berlin Tempelhof, in: Berlin-Tempelhof, Liverpool-Speke, Paris-Le Bourget. Années 30 Architecture des aéroports, Airport Architecture of the Thirties, Paris 2000, S.32 – 61

Monthlies for Architecture and Town Planning, 22, 1938, S.81-96; The Tempelhof world airport; The buildings of Airport Tempelhof; The steel structure of gate and hangars

Wolfgang Schäche, The “Central Airport Tempelhof” in Berlin, in: Berlin in past and present. Yearbook of National Archive Berlin 1996, Berlin 1997, P.151-164