Take a bow, Tegel: Five things about stalwart Berlin airport

·3-min read

Drab and outdated but beloved for its convenience and quirky hexagonal design, Berlin's Tegel airport will finally close for good on Sunday after more than 60 years.

The former West Berlin hub is being put into retirement to make way for the new Berlin Brandenburg Airport (BER), which finally opened last week after years of embarrassing delays.

Here are five things to know about the airport with humble beginnings that became a high-flier in German hearts.

- Flying start -

Tegel was originally built in just 90 days in 1948 during the Berlin Airlift, a huge operation to fly in supplies under the Soviet blockade of West Berlin.

Some 19,000 citizens worked round-the-clock alongside the Allies to ensure its quick completion.

Since Berlin's main airport at Tempelhof was not big enough to receive certain aircraft, Tegel was constructed with a 2,428-metre (7,966-foot) runway -- the longest in Europe at the time.

The first plane to land there on November 5 had eight tonnes of cheese in the hold.

Tegel's famous hexagonal concrete terminal was built in the 1960s and the growing hub replaced Tempelhof as West Berlin's main airport in 1975.

- Ease of travel -

Designed to handle 2.5 million passengers a year but latterly receiving more than 20 million, Tegel had become overcrowded and woefully outdated -- notorious in particular for its terrible toilets.

But Tegel was a dream for travellers with little time to spare thanks to its super-convenient design.

The main terminal's unusual shape meant walking distances as short as 30 metres from the aircraft to the exit, guaranteeing a smooth landing.

And with security at every gate, checking in was a breeze too.

Famous passengers to pass through the airport included US President John F Kennedy, who arrived at Tegel to give his iconic "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech in West Berlin.

- French connection -

The last plane to take off from Tegel will be an Air France flight to Paris Charles de Gaulle at 3 pm (1400 GMT) on Sunday -- a nod to the airport's location in what was once the French sector of the city.

Air France also operated the first commercial flight to land at Tegel, from Paris via Frankfurt in early 1960.

Until German reunification in 1990, only British, French and US airlines were allowed to operate regular flights to West Berlin.

- Airport that wouldn't die -

To make way for the new BER facility, Tegel was originally due to close in 2012.

But with the new airport plagued by delay after delay, trusty TXL was repeatedly called on to step into the breach.

In a referendum organised by locals in 2017, Berliners voted to keep Tegel open, but authorities eventually confirmed the closure for late 2020.

- Future plans -

Berlin mayor Michael Mueller summed up the feelings of many residents when he described the closure as "heartbreaking" for the city.

Since Tempelhof airport closed in 2008, its runways have become a sprawling park where Berliners enjoy picnics and bike rides.

The space around Tegel, just 30 minutes' drive from the city centre, will be converted into a residential area with shops, schools, nurseries and housing for more than 10,000 people.

There are also plans for an office park, with the terminal buildings to form part of the Beuth University of Applied Sciences.