Tempelhof Mountain 1

Tempelhof Mountain
Tempelhof Mountain (Copyright Jakab Tigges & Maltes Kroes)

What do to with Tempelhof Airport? After the airfield has been closed last October the city of Berlin has asked the ‘Berliners’ just that. One of the ideas that were sent to the municipality (and directly put aside) is the idea by architect Jakob Tigges. He proposes to construct a 1,000 meter tall mountain on the former airfield.

Imagine that in weekends you could climb a mountain, right in your city! On long summer nights barbeques could be held on the foot of the mountain, overlooking the Berlin skyline. When the conditions would allow for it, daredevils could take their glider from the mountain down onto the city. In the winter, when the slopes would turn white, the population of the city could ski right into the streets.

When I visited Berlin at the beginning of January this year I found out that the streets are not salted anymore that much to save the environment. The result is that with a little snow the city turns magnificently white. It would require only a little extra effort to shut down a couple of blocks to motor traffic, to allow for skiing.

The future city seems to be a leisure city. There are architects that suggest that the main attractor of cities should be the quality of living. If that is true, leisure should be considered as one of the main assets of a city. Leisure at large could include: Shops, restaurants, cafés and clubs; but also sports clubs and ‘nature’. Nature like a mountain.

The mountain idea makes me think of one of the datascapes that MVRDV did for the exhibition ‘Datacity’. When discussing garbage Winy Maas, Jakob van Rijs and Natalie de Vries suggested to collect all the garbage produced in the Netherlands and put them in just a couple of spots near each other. In a couple of years the flat landscape of the Netherlands would ‘naturally’ be enriched with an enormously high skyline of new mountains. A monument to consumerism.

What would happen if Berlin would take that idea into practice? The city would construct the largest MVRDV design on earth, that is for sure. But how long would it take? A simple calculation looks like this:

Cone = (Ï€ r²)h/2

Mountain: (Ï€ 1,000²)1,000/2 = 1.570.000.000 m³

If the 3.400.000 inhabitants of the city of Berlin would each produce 1 m³ of garbage a year, it would take 461 years to complete the mountain. However, if all 82.000.000 Germans would collect their garbage at Tempelhof, it would still take 19 years to get the mountain up to the kilometer. But that is for a mountain higher than the Burj Dubai!

Technically the Tempelhof Mountain could be erected. Architect Jakob Tigges however doesn’t regard the idea to be a serious proposal. To Der Spiegel he says the idea is an unconstructive provocation that is meant to work a place-holder in the minds of the Berliners, until a solid idea for the site has been developed. The site shouldn’t be developed into another mediocre neighborhood, Tigges demands: there are many open spaces in the city better suited for that.

That is true. There are quite a number of empty plots in the center of the city. The city of Berlin is far from being complete. That is probably in part due to the fact that city has a name for being somewhat too big in relation to its population. The result is that there is not enough pressure from the market to fill each space in the city.

A concept Jakob Tigges probably could agree with pops up at the end of the article in Der Spiegel: “[…] there was once a proposal to convert the space into a luxury medical clinic for the rich and famous, complete with landing strips for private planes. Ronald Lauder of the Estee Lauder fortune stood ready to invest €350 million for a huge health and wellness center that he felt would draw international patients seeking privacy during plastic surgery and other procedures. He may have been right, seeing as how the airport has attracted stars such as the Marilyn Monroe and Marlene Dietrich in the past. Yet the plan never came to fruition.”


Tempelhof Mountain (Copyright Jakab Tigges & Maltes Kroes)


Tempelhof Mountain (Copyright Jakab Tigges & Maltes Kroes)

Related: Tempelhof Mountain 2; ‘No’ for Tempelhof; Pyramid, by… Germany;


For me, this could be just idea of a true genius, even if it wasn’t serious. Just astonishing, I have no words…

With all do respect to the gentlemen that published this, fighting to retain this space as an airfield is, perhaps, the most forward thinking approach possible. Let’s take a quick trip around the world to review the state of other city airports.

CHICAGO’S MIDWAY AIRPORT – In many respects, this airport shares a similar history with Tempelhof. It was, at one point, the busiest airport in North America. Tempelhof was, for a time, also the busiest airport in Europe. It is located in a densely populated area of Chicago and has undergone many financing hurdles over the years. Ultimately, the forward thinking city of Chicago renovated this airport, which is signicantly smaller than Tempelhof, and re-established it as a domestic hub for low cost carriers. It handles aircraft as large as Boeing 757’s on runways that are SMALLER THAN TEMPELHOF’s. This airport serves a vital need to an income segment that cannot be serviced by the much larger O’hare International Airport as fees and taxes there are prohibitvely expensive for many people. Chicago has found ways to finance Midway by leasing it to private funds. The airport continues to be one of the busiest airports in the country. All of this in a city that has roughly 1,000,000 fewer inhabitants than Berlin and a network of 3 airports to service its population.

WASHINGTON DC’S RAEGAN NATIONAL AIRPORT – Washington DC, like Berlin, is a capital city and also has 3 airports that support its traveling population. Washington is one of the most secure cities in the world and has bustling city airport less than 15 miles from the Capital and the White House. This airport is also SMALLERTHAN TEMPELHOF and only has SHORTER RUNWAYS. Yet, DCA has a full daily schedule and services mid-sized aircraft that fly across the entire nation despite having two other airports to compete with. Much like the previous example, the federal government granted funding to expand and renovate DCA rather than attempt to shut it down. This city had the forethought to see a potential future infrastructure need and the growth to come. There actions have been rewarded with a city that has experienced continuous population and industry growth over the last ten years. It is also worth noting that Washington is a city of LESS THAN ONE MILLION PEOPLE and, in that respect, is significantly smaller than Berlin. Here is a city with two large, international airports that still very much relies on its inner city airport for economic vitality. Strange then that Berlin feels that closing Tempelhof is a sound strategy for viability. What Berlin really is doing is trying to cut costs by eliminating future resources for short term gain.

NEW YORK CITY’S LAGUARDIA AIRPORT (LGA) – This airport is also smaller than Tempelhof and boasts runways that are either smaller or of roughly the same size as Tempelhof’s. Do I even need to go into it a third time? New York is huge and also has three airports all of which operate at close to full capacity. Laguardia has been and continues to be renovated. It is clear that the government of New York recognizes the economic vehicle that this airport serves for the city of New York. It should be blatently obvious how incompetent the government of Berlin is.

I could continue with Sao Paolo, London, Bangkok, etc. But, I think you get the idea.

Again, this catastrophy has nothing to do with looking towards the future. This is a tragic example of fiscal responsibility and a scramble for short term fixes at the expense of jobs and viable infrastructure.


BUDGET CONSTRAINTS – Berlin has undergone a massive facelift operation that has left the city in a massive hole. This is on top of what any city with a balanced budget would identify as fiscal irresponsibility. Tempelhof is the unfortunate victim of a need to cut costs quickly and completely dismisses the reality of the underutilized ASSET that the property, as an airport, serves. Klaus Wowereit and the CDU have done nothing to make Berlin financially sound. They have done little to promote job growth and closing a massive complex that employs hundreds of people only futher exacerbates the situation. Now what do you have? A shuttered massive complex that costs TWICE AS MUCH to maintain and secure now than it did when it was up and running.

ECONOMIC VIABILITY AND INFRASTRUCTURE – If you subscribe to a socialist model and government intervention to create jobs and growth, then there is no excuse for you not speaking out against the closure of this airport. As is being demostrated in the United States right now, in times of economic downturn, of which Berlin has been a party for decades now, government sponsored construction and development programs are vital to quality of life in the present and future. Tempelhof was a JOB CENTER. No revitalized airport has ever served as anything other than a source of jobs not only for the companies involved in its operation but also the business that a convenient inner city airport can bring in. I fly constantly and I know that I find it a lot more convenient to fly into a city where I’m a 10 minutes train ride from downtown than city’s that require buses and $40 cabs and long train rides. Sure. You can say that Tempelhof was dead and barely employed anyway. But, Tempelhof also hasn’t been touched since it was opened up again for commercial use. Putting up a new departure/arrival board is not what I call modernizing an airport. Ofcourse it looks half empty if no investment is put into making it a relevent 21st century hub.

SAFETY – Let’s not even go there. Air travel is incredibly safe these days and almost no one living any where near the airport complained about its noise or the risk of accident. This is a political issue that has no basis in reality.

HISTORICAL AND GRANDIOSE – Come on, people. This is the last remnant of what birthed modern day commercial aviation. Sure. You can say that the casual terminal and the easy access to aircraft is impratical. But, in a very real sense, it was anything but impracitcal. This is precisely the kind of small adjustment to the pain of modern day travel that companies look for. They use these niche aspects of travel to diversify. Like it or not, that old beast of an airport had real modern day appeal. Any marketing expert or airline insider would support this claim.

BETTER LAND USE? – So, I have herd proposals from a Hollywood-like studio set to the new Central Park of Europe. When did Berlin decide that it wanted to become Hamburg, LA or New York City. I thought Berlin wanted to be Berlin? One of the greenest cities in the world hardly needs another huge park. Berlin needs jobs. Berlin needs viable assets that create regular work and funnel people into the city. A park is going to do that? Movie sets are going to do that when you already have a well established Entertainment industry in Hamburg? Holding conferences on the property or the occassional concert is really going to re-vitalize Berlin? The last time that I checked, Berlin has countless spaces in the city that could use the redevelopment a lot more than Tempelhof. This is a political pipe dream with no real objective to benefit the people of Berlin.

Closing a potentially viable infrastructure assets in a large, world city is NOT forwarding thinking. It is the road kill of a runaway city administration looking for ways to cut costs rather than improve revenue streams for long term budget health. But, atleast we can thank the CDU and Wowereit for a few Berlin success stories. We have the new Potsdamer Platz Sony Center and a giant hole where a palace is supposedly to be built. Hmmm…..yes. I feel very confident in this admiinstration. VOTE OUT THE CDU AND KLAUS WOWEREIT IN 2009. BERLIN NEEDS JOBS, BERLIN NEEDS GROWTH, BERLIN NEEDS PEOPLE THINK ABOUT THE FUTURE OF A CITY MEANT TO BE A STRONG PRESENCE ON THE WORLD STAGE.

It is a great idea. I like it. But it needs to be articulate more carefully and seriously in terms of its ecomomic, eoclogical, and political and social functions.

It reminds me of Rio de Janeiro, a mountain in the middle of a city. The endpoint of a street directly into a mountain. I love the paradox and the tension.
But that’s Rio. In Berlin it’s just ridiculous, with all the obvious arguments. I do love the provocation though. Crazy ideas are the bases for the good ideas.

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