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Tempelhof apparently doomed by low turnout

Tempelhof apparently doomed by low turnout

The historic Tempelhof airport, principal scene of the Berlin Airlift during the Cold War, appeared to be slated Monday for certain closure after a referendum effort to keep it open failed to draw enough support, particularly in the city´s former Communist eastern sector. Mayor Klaus Wowereit claimed victory late Sunday after 21.7 percent of registered voters cast ballots in favor of keeping the airport. The referendum was nonbinding, but a supporting vote of 25 percent was considered necessary to bring about reconsideration of the decision to close the airport. Berlin´s State Election Office said in an e-mailed statement that turnout had been 36 percent; a Berliner-Zeitung poll two days ago showed that 47 percent of the voters had planned to participate.

Tempelhof has become the focal point of a movement to preserve a terminal building that the architect Norman Foster has called "the mother of all airports." City Hall plans to close the airfield by October and shift all flights and operations to a refurbished airport on the city´s outer limits.

The terminal is a limestone edifice that was one of the world´s largest buildings when the Nazis finished work on it in the 1930s, Tempelhof was one of the main landing points for allied supply planes in the 11-month Soviet blockade in 1948 and 1949.

"I have sympathy for the feelings of people who for emotional or historical reasons don´t agree with the closure of the airport," Wowereit, a Social Democrat, said in a faxed statement. He had threatened to move ahead with plans for the closing, regardless of the results of the referendum.

The anti-closing initiative, supported by Chancellor Angela Merkel, appealed to nostalgia. Of those who voted, 60.2 percent said they wanted to keep the airport, while 39.6 percent sided with Wowereit. People supporting preservation of Tempelhof pointed to that figure in claiming victory, while Wowereit called on them to "respect" the attitude of the three-quarters of Berlin´s voters who voted against or did not vote at all.

With temperatures reaching almost 20 degrees Celsius (68 Fahrenheit) and Berlin residents crowding the city´s parks and lakes, only one district had a turnout of more than half of its voters: Steglitz-Zehlendorf, with 50.9 percent. The eastern district of Marzahn Hellersdorf had the lowest turnout, with 23.1 percent.

Tempelhof is on a subway line four stops from the city center and is a 10-minute cab ride from the center.

"Of course this is a victory, not a defeat," Andreas Peter, chairman of the Interest Group of City Airport Tempelhof, told a reporter on the local station TV Berlin.

The city government of Social Democrats and the Left Party has said the closing is required before the expansion of Schonefeld airport, which is planned to be completed by 2011. It supported the closing with a poster campaign dismissing Tempelhof as a transit point for "rich VIPs."

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