A guided tour of a decommissioned airport doesn’t sound likely to quicken the pulse, but Tempelhof, the site of the famous Berlin Airlift in 1948-49, is no ordinary ex-airport. Hitler ordered its construction, and it is one of the few Nazi-era buildings remaining in Berlin. It is, as you might expect, incredibly monumental. The Americans who occupied it after the war lowered the ceilings in the main hall to make it feel more human in scale.
Our engaging guide, a Berlin art student, took us above the dropped ceiling, an area off limits for 50 years, to see the original ceiling, its coffers and rosettes blackened from a fire started near the end of the war. We saw the wood-paneled smokers’ lounge and the shaft where Hitler’s private elevator was to have been installed, and ascended to the roof for panoramic views of the field, its runways now part of a huge public park. Hitler had planned for some 100,000 spectators to attend air spectacles here, but the seating on the sloped stadium-like roof was never installed. We also explored the concrete bomb shelter in the basement, decorated with bawdy cartoons, and several rooms of the American military base. I wholeheartedly recommend the tour to anyone with an interest in history or architecture.