When Germany’s Nazi government built Tempelhof Airport in 1930s Berlin, it probably didn’t expect that the site would one day become a refugee camp. Since this Monday, however, European migrants have been slowly moving into the former airport to sleep in tents pitched under the hangar roof. Up to 1,000 people (mainly escapees from the war in Syria) will move into the new camp within the coming weeks, a small portion of the 800,000 displaced people expected to arrive in Germany this year.
There’s sweet poetic justice in a monument created by modern history’s most loathsome regime being turned to humanitarian use. There’s nonetheless far more to the Tempelhof site than its Nazi origins alone. The old airport remains one of contemporary Berlin’s most contested sites, a place where just last year a citywide referendum saw Berliners reject plans to redevelop the airport grounds with housing. The temporary refugee accommodation adds a sharp twist to this story. At Tempelhof, Berliners have effectively said no to real estate developers—and yes to refugees.