- - Friday, June 10, 2016

I’ve been reading through the excellent 2010 New York Times bestselling book by historian Richard Reeves, Daring Young Men: The Heroism and Triumph of the Berlin Airlift (June 1948-May 1949).

In the very opening paragraphs of the introduction, Reeves wrote the following description of Tempelhof Airport in Berlin, the airport where American planes landed in order to save Berlin from the Soviet blockade.

Tempelhof Airport is quiet now, being turned into a giant park by the Berlin City Council. But there was a time sixty years ago when it was never silent, in 1948 and 1949, when American and British planes landed or took off every forty-five seconds to keep Berlin and Berliners alive.

It is an extraordinary place still, a grassy bowl enclosed on one side by a C-shaped building three-quarters of a mile long, once the largest structure in the world, a looming artifact of Hitler’s architectural ambitions. IN the silence, it is not hard to imagine the sights and sounds of history, the gigantic swastika flags that hung from the main terminal’s sixty-foot-high ceilings and then the planes roaring in and out only three years after the end of World War II.

The far side of the greensward is bordered by a chain-link fence just in front of six-story apartment buildings and a cemetery. A United States Air Force C-54 is on a pedestal with a plaque that reads:

For 467 days during 1948 and 1949, the City of Berlin was kept alive by an Airbridge of Allied Aircraft bringing food and other essentials from the West. …

Consider the following facts about the Tempelhof Airport. Adolf Hitler and the Nazis designed the reconstruction of this immense facility for both aeronautical function and as a means for the glorification of Nazism. But, in a reversal of fortune since the defeat of Germany in World War II, the facilities have instead been used for:

  1. The Allied rescue of the city, against the Soviet blockade and near-certain takeover had the Allies vacated Berlin.
  2. After the fall of the Soviet Union, a commercial airport.
  3. After the close of the airport in 2008, a public space for sports, recreation, festivals, and concerts.
  4. Since 2015, Tempelhof has been home to the largest concentration of Syrian refugees in Germany. The immense size of the airport means that upwards of 7,000 refugees could be housed in the airport.

No matter your opinion on German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s immigration policies, you’ve got to admit there is a beautiful irony in seeing a building built for Nazi glory being used instead for humanitarian purposes.


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