Cold War-era Berlin Tegel airport closes its doors after 60 years

Nov 7, 2020

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Sunday is a sad day for many Berliners.

The city’s historic Cold War-era airport, Tegel (TXL), shuts its doors for good with a final Air France departure at 3 p.m. local time. Long-delayed Berlin Brandenburg Airport (BER), which opened on Oct. 31, will handle all flights to and from the German capital.

The closure of Tegel is bittersweet to many locals. Despite a terminal that often felt like a 1970s time capsule, a majority of Berliners voted to keep the airport open in a non-binding referendum in 2017. Many loved the proximity of the airfield less than six miles from the Reichstag whereas Brandenburg, despite its modernity, lies nearly 19 miles distant.

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(GERMANY OUT) Pan Am maintained a base for its Internal German Service at Tegel until 1990. (Photo by Rieth/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

“I’ve flown from Tegel many times since the Wall came down, and it feels like an era is coming to an end,” East Berliner Rolf Schneider told NPR of the closure on Nov. 6.

Tegel was built as a military airfield during the Berlin Airlift in 1948. More than a decade later in 1960, Air France operated the airport’s first commercial passenger flight — hence the French carrier operating the last flight out — at what would become West Berlin’s main airport during the Cold War.

The airport’s iconic hexagonal terminal designed by Meinhard von Gerkan and Volkwin Marg opened in 1974. With West German carrier Lufthansa barred from serving Berlin, Tegel became the main base of Pan Am’s Internal German Service as well as British Airways’ German services.

Related: Berlin’s Brandenburg Airport finally opens after a decade of delays


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Lufthansa began flights to Berlin in 1990 after post-World War II restrictions were lifted. It acquired aircraft and gates from Pan Am to rapidly expand service at Tegel.

Since 1974, Tegel’s hexagonal terminal has remained the beating heart of the airport. The shape was very much of its era: designed to shorten the distance from aircraft to curbside, according to the magazine Bauen + Wohnen in 1976. The feel was both brutalist and modern, with hexagonal space-frame structure in the landside corridors of the building.

But the design did not take into account either the security needs or aircraft size of the 21st century. Air Berlin, which shut its doors in 2017, cited the delays opening Brandenburg — and by extension the need to continue operating from antiquated Tegel — among reasons for its losses during its final years.

Related: The secret life of 7 former airports

The hexagonal terminal at Berlin Tegel was something of a throwback to the 1970s. (Photo by Jakubaszek/Getty Images)

After Tegel closes, the airport will be converted to a new research and industrial park named “Berlin TXL.” The plan includes new housing and an urban park. The iconic terminal will be preserved and converted into a new campus for Beuth University.

Tegel will make two former Berlin airports adaptively reused. The Nazi-era Tempelhof Airport on the city’s south side was adapted as a large urban park in 2010.

But for those who enjoyed flying in and out of Tegel, Sunday is auf wiedersehen to the historic field.

Related: Germany’s second largest airline Air Berlin ceases operations after 39 years

Featured image by Maja Hitij/Getty Images.




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