Berlin Voters Reject Plan to Build Homes on Cold War Airfield

Berlin voters rejected the government’s plan to build homes, schools and a library on Tempelhofer Feld, the former airfield where Allied bombers once delivered food to a city besieged by the Soviet Army.

The development on the edges of Tempelhof, now a recreational lawn almost the size of New York’s Central Park, was voted down by the majority of voters in the referendum and more than a quarter of all Berliners eligible to vote, Berlin’s Election Commission said on its website today. By 9:38 p.m. about 83 percent of the votes had been counted. A final result is expected by the end of the day.

The referendum was meant to settle a disagreement over a controversial project that pitted government officials trying to address a housing shortage against locals who worried they would lose access to Berlin’s biggest park. Polls putting roughly equal numbers of voters on either side of the ballot had made the outcome difficult to predict.

Tempelhof Airport was built in 1936 by Hermann Goering’s Reich Air Ministry. Used during the Cold War for an Allied Forces’ airlift to save Berlin from starvation, it was closed in 2008 after a referendum to keep it open failed because of a low turnout. Once it was shuttered, local residents staged demonstrations, demanding the airfield be opened to the public, which happened in 2010.

The vote blocks all development at the airfield. The government had planned to build 4,700 homes over several stages, with at least half of the 1,700 homes planned for the first phase subsidized to make them more affordable. All of the development would have been on the edges of the former airfield, leaving the rest of the site as a public space that would still be bigger than Berlin’s Tiergarten, a park on the west side of the Brandenburg Gate.

Hot Housing

Housing is a hot-button issue in a city where disposable income and employment lag behind the national average. Since 2005, the number of people living in Berlin has risen 3 percent to 3.4 million, according to data compiled by the city government, which expects 7 percent more residents by 2030.

Rents have increased by 23 percent in the past three years, according to Bulwiengesa, with some areas showing gains of more than 40 percent.

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