November 26, 2008 / 1:25 PM / 12 years ago

Berlin to turn Tempelhof airport into park

BERLIN (Reuters) - Tempelhof airport, which served as a lifeline for West Berlin during the Soviet blockade, will be turned into a park, ending years of controversy over its future.

The city government said it will spend 61 million euros ($80 million) converting the airport, which was closed last month, into a 250-hectare garden in central Berlin, the size of New York’s Central Park.

In 1948 and 1949, Cold War allies supplied West Berlin via an air lift that circumvented a Soviet land blockade. Tempelhof became a symbol of freedom for West Berlin, encircled by Communist East Germany.

A spokesman for the Berlin government, Marko Rosteck, said the monolithic limestone terminal, designed by Ernst Sagebiel, will be preserved.

He said a wide variety of proposals for the terminal’s use were being considered.

“We’re very fortunate to have a giant patch of green in the heart of the city just waiting to be developed,” Rosteck said, adding Berlin hopes to host an international garden exhibition in 2017. The city hopes that will attract 3.5 million tourists.

“It will make Berlin, which is already one of the greenest capitals in Europe, even greener,” he added.

Over the years there were many proposals on what to do with the airport, which hosted some of the world’s first commercial flights in 1923.

The site was originally a military training ground. In 1909 American flight pioneer Orville Wright used it for experiments flying planes.

The debate over Tempelhof’s future was highly charged and continued up to the moment the loss-making airport, five km (3 miles) south of the city center, was shut down on October 31.

Some of the suggestions for Tempelhof included turning it into a zoo, a sports park or a residential housing complex — or even a private hospital for affluent foreigners.

Reporting by Josie Cox; Editing by Catherine Bosley

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