Berlin's Tempelhof Airport – repurposed

Over the past couple of years, we’ve dug into a number of projects that redeveloped outdated infrastructure into new recreational and green spaces, from Staten Island’s Freshkills Park (a former landfill) to Missouri’s Katy Trail (an old railroad line) to Germany’s Landschaftspark Duisburg-Nord (a closed blast furnace works). The Germans clearly have a knack for this whole reclamation thing: two years after shuttering the legendary Tempelhof Airport in Berlin (the site of the 1948-49 Berlin airlift), city officials began discussing ways to reuse the land (which, according to The Local, is nearly as big as Central Park). Their broad plan: a park. Berliners, however, have taken it upon themselves to transform the space for bicyling, rollerblading, cooking out, and urban gardening.

That’s right – a group of “pioneers” (as they call themselves) received a lease to create allotment spaces available to anyone who’d like to claim them and declare to the world: Ich bin ein gärtner. Started in April, the Allmende Kontor now has around 300 people “growing fruit, vegetables and flowers between the former runways of the airport,” with others on a waiting list for plots. Beyond growing plants, the organizers also see the space as a location for celebrating the cultural diversity of the surrounding neighborhoods, populated mostly by working class Germans, Turks and Arabs.

The gardens at the former airport certainly aren’t the first in the city, but they are much more of a grassroots effort than the norm; Allotments in Germany are a pretty structured affair. In fact, sociologist Christa Müller describes what’s happening at Allmende Kontor as a political act. “As politicians have lost credibility, people want to redefine city spaces on their own terms. It’s become cool among young people to garden, to make their own jams – to produce and not just consume.”

Unfortunately, it may be a relatively short-lived development: the organizers have a total of six years of potential lease time, and the site’s already scheduled for more formal landscaping for the 2017 International Garden Show. While such a development might seem a natural fit for such an event, garden organizers suspect the planners have something much more genteel in mind, and they realize they’re currently working on some pretty prime real estate. For now, though, it’s a very cool undertaking.

Seen any of this bottom-up reclamation of Tempelhof Airport? Let us know what you think.


Image: Opening of the Tempelhof Airport grounds to the public. Credit: Times at Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.