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Transportation

Berlin: A Drama in Four Airports

Between iconic architecture and roles in the city’s tumultuous 20th-century history, Tempelhof, Tegel, Schönefeld, and Brandenburg are emotionally charged spaces.
Berliners party on the tarmac for a dance festival at the former Tempelhof airport in September 2017.
Berliners party on the tarmac for a dance festival at the former Tempelhof airport in September 2017. Hannibal Hanschke/Reuters

If one city proves the importance of a good airport, it might be the European capital with two, three, or four of them, depending on how you count. This is Berlin, where the tumultuous 20th century scattered a trail of three flughaefen from east to west.

Technically, Berlin has only two functioning destinations for air travel—that’s Tegel and Schönefeld, two ill-fitting sky harbors on opposite ends of town. But two others hold outsize space in the Berlin imagination. There’s Tempelhof, the Nazi airfield in the heart of the city that was shuttered in 2008; it has since morphed into a freeform park and an unlikely site for refugee housing. And finally there’s Berlin Brandenburg, the ambitious post-unification effort to consolidate the above three airports into a single modern facility that better fits the aspirations of Germany’s current cosmopolitan center. Originally set to open in 2011, its long-delayed construction process has turned into a clusterfuck of epic proportions.