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Lifestyle

Berliners bid emotional farewell to their beloved Tegel airport

BERLIN (Reuters) - Built in just three months in 1948 to provision a city under siege, Berlin’s Tegel airport closes next month, making way for the new international airport on the other side of the city, which opens this Saturday, nearly a decade behind schedule.

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Tegel owes its existence to the Soviet Union’s blockade of West Berlin, an isolated enclave of democratic West Germany in the Communist East, as Joseph Stalin attempted to starve out a city of around 2 million after relations among the Allies soured.

In record time, the French occupying forces that controlled that corner of Berlin constructed a new runway in a central suburb still pocked with bomb craters from the war.

The new airport helped relieve the pressure on Berlin’s Tempelhof airport, also in West Berlin, where British and United States aircraft were landing almost continuously to feed the city through the cold winter of 1948-9.

It was not until the 1970s that the airport, now named after 19th century aviation pioneer Otto Lilienthal, came into its own as Berlin’s main commercial airport, with an ultra modern hexagonal terminal that let passengers step from their cars onto their airliner in minutes.

That made the terminal a delight for planespotters, who loved to score close-up views from the viewing terrace, which has been reopened with social distancing for the airport’s last days after having been closed due to the pandemic.

“I thought it was funny when I read that the visitors’ terrace is open again,” said neighbour Christina Buecher-Gaertner, remembering visiting on foot as a schoolgirl in winter 1978-9, pulling a sledge behind her.

“I don’t think that’s possible at any other airport because the distances are so much greater,” she added. Some said they would miss the noise.

“I will miss the sound of planes when I go to bed at night because I know what time it is when they land,” said Ursula Bauer, another airport neighbour.

Tempelhof airport closed in 2008 and its airfield is now a giant park, after Berliners voted to save it from development.

Berlin plans to open a research and industrial park on the site of Tegel airport, but promises there will be enormous green spaces.

Reporting by Reuters TV, writing by Thomas Escritt, editing by Alexandra Hudson

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