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  • 100% Tempelhofer Feld: The fight to save Berlin’s favourite open space

Protect the park

100% Tempelhofer Feld: The fight to save Berlin’s favourite open space

100% Tempelhofer Feld is campaigning to preserve one of Berlin's most beloved open spaces.

Photo: Jürgen Held / IMAGO

Tempelhofer Feld, the largest open space in Berlin, has a long history of aviation: in 1897, the world’s first metal airship took its maiden flight there; Orville Wright flew eight laps over Tempelhof in 1909; in 1931, Berliners welcomed Graf Zeppelin after an Arctic research trip.

By then, Tempelhof was the busiest commercial airport in Europe; later, it was the site of the Berlin Airlift, with a plane carrying supplies landing every 63 seconds. In 2008, all that airborne activity came to an end – and since then, Tempelhof has been the site of a land war.

Tempelhof has been the site of a land war.

How the Feld should be used has been the subject of a series of clashes between those who currently benefit from the space – the joggers, bikers, bladers, skaters, kite flyers, dog owners, gardeners, picnickers and wildlife that have frequented the abandoned runways since they were opened to the public in 2010 – and those who wish to benefit.

In 2014, the citizen’s action group 100% Tempelhofer Feld put forth a referendum that would protect the area, restricting the government’s ability to develop, sell or privatise the space and reserving it for leisure and recreational use.

Now, 10 years after that referendum became law, the Berlin Senate is once again floating plans for the development of Tempelhofer Feld, making a play to allow for residential housing to be built to ease the near-critical shortage of apartments across the city.

We sat down with Anita Möller, a member of 100% Tempelhofer Feld, to talk about what their mission is today and what it’s like to spend so long fighting for the same public space.

Photo: IMAGO / Emmanuele Contini

Tell us a little about where the fight is now. Has the goal of your organisation changed?

It was back then, and still is, to preserve Tempelhofer Feld as it is. Not exactly as it is – it’s also our mission that we support the further development of Tempelhofer Feld, the civic development of it.

It’s important that we actually implement the law as it is.

It’s important that we actually implement the law as it is and protect the Feld from being used for something else. We want to fight for that referendum to stay as it is, which the Senate is basically ignoring.

What do we know about what the Senate is planning for Tempelhofer Feld this time?

They want to start an initiative with 250 citizens, and they want to talk about how the Feld can actually be developed. That’s the first step, and the second step, which is supposed to take place in 2026, is an idea competition, where architecture firms can send in their ideas for how to build on the Feld.

So they’re planning it in two steps, basically. The third step would be [another] referendum initiated by the Senate, which is actually unconstitutional in Berlin, because it’s something that’s initiated by the public and not by the Senate. They’re trying to do that anyway, somehow.

And when they say development, they mean housing…

Yes. They always say that it’s just the edge or the rim. They don’t want to build in the middle, just the outer part. But it’s not defined. I’m sure there is a plan, but we don’t know it. That’s why they do the civic involvement and then the ideas competition – to pretend that there’s no plan and to actually pretend to involve everyone.

I’m sure there is a plan, but we don’t know it.

They could just change the law and say, “Okay, we start building houses on the Feld tomorrow”. But they’re not doing that because they know that a lot of people are against it. That’s why they keep claiming that times have changed and we are now 10 years later, and people now actually want to have housing on Tempelhofer Feld. That’s not true at all, it’s just to ease people and to fulfil their plans.

Is there anything that indicates to you that they want to go after some of the most used areas, like the skate strip or the Grillplatz?

We assume that when they talk about peripheral development that it will include the skate strip, as well as the Grillplätze – there are several. Next to the baseball fields is also a barbecue area, and right now, the law for that part is being changed. It’s almost through, and then they can build on that part. They claim it’s only for accommodation for refugees, but they changed the law to build on those areas.

Photo: IMAGO / Emmanuele Contini

Why do you think the Senate or the developers are going after this particular space so aggressively?

They’re claiming that they have to do that because of the housing problem we have in Berlin. Which is true, we do have a housing problem. But we don’t have a shortage of areas. We just have an implementation problem.

We do have a housing problem. But we don’t have a shortage of areas.

There’s this urban development plan… it actually states that we have potential area for 249,000 apartments, and we only need 200,000. And that doesn’t even include Tempelhofer Feld. So there is enough space to build housing in the city.

But the reason they’re not actually building housing in the city is because it’s too expensive. Building on Tempelhofer Feld will also be super expensive, as not only the housing but also the entire infrastructure needs to be developed. The reason why they are going after the Feld is because the standard land value is one of the lowest within the inner city – compared to, say, Prenzlauer Berg or Mitte – which makes it lucrative for investors.

What will happen is the building site will be sold by the government and the taxpayers will be charged for the infrastructure. Do you know the tower right next to Tempelhofer Feld they just built a couple of years ago, that huge one? No one’s actually living there, because the rent is just too expensive.

And we think this is what’s going to happen to Tempelhofer Feld as well. They claim that they want to build housing for every price range, basically. But in the end, it’s gonna be housing like that, and no one can actually afford it.

Photo: IMAGO / Schöning

Can you talk a little bit about why it’s important to your organisation to protect Tempelhofer Feld?

There was a value study of Tempelhofer Feld, which shows that there’s an actual social value of the Feld. There’s a natural climate system. It’s biodiversity, which is huge on the Feld, and it’s home to endangered animals and plant species.

It’s a recreational space. It’s also a place that enables different groups to come together peacefully, which is unique. And that’s only possible because it’s that huge.

Photo: IMAGO / Emmanuele Contini

We have a lot of parks in Berlin, but they don’t fulfil all these criteria. So the unique thing about Tempelhofer Feld is that it has all those values combined in one space. Even if you just pick one of those, it’s a reason to keep it.

Like when it comes to climate, it’s a natural air conditioner. You have that air that blows through, and that air-conditioned air basically is responsible for the whole town to cool down when it’s really hot. So just for the climate within the city, that space is really really important as summers are getting hotter.

Everyone can just use it in their own way.

And there’s stuff to do for everyone. You can barbecue, you can do sports, you can just walk through nature. You can sit there, you can meet friends. You can have a drink.

Everyone can just use it in their own way. And no one gets annoyed, because if the neighbour’s coming too close with his barbecue, you can just move like 10 metres and everyone’s happy. It’s kind of Berlin, that we still have that space, and I actually think it’s worth protecting it. Because once they build on it, it’s gone.

Photo: IMAGO / Rolf Kremming

Even if we don’t build on Tempelhof, Berlin still has a problem – building the housing we need is too expensive to be worth it for construction companies. What should the government do about that broader issue?

That’s actually not my expertise, but the thing is, there’s so many ideas, and there’s so many smart people who know how to develop a city in this century and also make it sustainable. There’s ideas to build on houses that are only low levels, or supermarkets.

It’s not like this is a new problem.

Then there’s also the opportunity that the Senate or the government does its own housing, so they don’t necessarily need other construction firms that make margins, because housing should be just affordable and the state doesn’t actually need to make profit with it.

Obviously we, as an initiative, are not saying, “Don’t build on Templehofer Feld, but build on any other green space.” We actually demand that they do their job and find a solution in terms of how to sustainably develop a city. And they’ve had time! It’s not like this is a new problem.

Is there a reason developers are going for Tempelhofer Feld and not Tiergarten or allotment gardens – other big green spaces?

I believe those gardens are protected by some kind of law – I don’t know the details, but I imagine it’s hard to actually buy that land and build on it.

Tiergarten is probably because there’s no infrastructure, but maybe they have plans to do so. You have to [build] that for Tempelhofer Feld as well, but there’s already infrastructure in terms of schools and stuff like that, and you don’t have that in Tiergarten.

You talked a little bit about being open to civic development of Tempelhofer Feld – what does that mean?

It’s not us who actually is in charge of that. There’s a civic organisation that has been formed, and they are in charge of whatever happens on Tempelhofer Feld.

It’s called in German Feldkoordination. They’re volunteers, they’ve been elected, and there’s also people from Grün Berlin, that’s the company who’s in charge of the Tempelhofer Feld, which actually belongs to the government.

Photo: IMAGO / A. Friedrichs

They decide what happens on the Feld, how the money and the budget is spent, what projects can be realised, stuff like that. They are for more trees, more benches, they just built more toilets. But they depend on the budget the Senate gives them. And as it’s on a voluntary basis, it’s not that they get paid.

So it is a bit slower than people actually think. Everything that’s been going on around that, that’s what we support.

Everyone is interested in protecting the Feld.

Your organisation has been around for a long time; what is reaction from the public to your mission like right now? Has it dulled or increased over time?

It’s actually really, really positive. Every time we’re on the Feld – right now we are collecting signatures for a petition to make the Feld a UNESCO World Heritage Site – people are coming towards us. Everyone is interested in protecting the Feld. They keep asking how they can help. They’re signing the petition. They’re also volunteering.

How can people get more involved?

I’ve been living here for 10 years, this is basically my garden.

We meet every Monday at the church at Herrfurthplatz, at Genezareth Kirche, at 6pm. People who are new always say, “I can’t believe it. Why is that going on?” We’re still having to explain to a lot of people that the Feld is in danger again. So we’re getting the attention step by step, but the Senate has been really sneaky, and just recently when it got into the press that they actually plan on building on it, people go, “Oh my god, I didn’t know that’s happening again, I’ve signed for it like a million times, I don’t want this to happen.” Everyone has a story: I’ve been living here for 10 years, this is basically my garden. It’s really emotional.

Photo: Maurizio Gambarini / FUNKE Foto Services

What’s the next move for 100% Tempelhofer Feld?

The big goal is to actually make a big statement to the Senate that people are still against development and building houses on Tempelhofer Feld. So we have different ideas on how to do that and different projects.

One is that petition we ask people to sign, then there’s going to be the Karneval der Kulturen in May, where we are hugely involved with the parade. There’s gonna be some nice action around the hashtag #feldliebe, which means Feld love, and it’s supposed to be a little festival with different events.

We’re planning the years step by step, to show that people love the Feld and they want to keep it.