Berlin Voters Reject Plan to Build Homes at Cold War Airport

Berlin voters rejected the government’s plan to build homes, schools and a library on Tempelhofer Feld, preferring to keep the city’s largest park undeveloped even as demand for housing increases.

The development on the edges of Tempelhof, now a recreational lawn almost the size of New York’s Central Park, was voted down by 64.3 percent of voters in a referendum yesterday, Berlin’s Election Commission said on its website. About 41 percent of participants backed the government’s plan.

“We’re pleased that Berliners joined us in choosing a new direction for the city’s development,” Michael Schneidewind, board member at 100% Tempelhofer Feld e.V., the grassroots organization that forced the referendum, said by phone. “We want Berlin housing policy to focus less on new construction and more on making the most out of existing homes.”

The referendum was meant to settle a disagreement over a 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.

Affordable Homes

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.

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.

Berlin has about 2.5 million voters, of which 46.1 percent participated in the referendum, according to the Elections Commission. Almost 30 percent of all people eligible to vote rejected the goverment’s plan, more than the minimum 25 percent required.

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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