It is the week of the Berlin Tourism Fair ITB again, and just like last year, I felt like I should share some valuable information on things to see in my home of choice. A lot of travel bloggers will come to town for this, and I do hope that some of the visitors will make time to see Berlin – ideally beyond Brandenburg Gate and the (admittedly amazing) East Side Gallery.
Last year I indulged in the history that this city has to offer. The place I am bringing to you today, the airfield of the closed down Tempelhof airport, is one that I have wanted to write about for a long time. Only I never quite knew how, because it is special to me in a way that probably no other place in Berlin is.
When I was in Berlin apartment hunting just before I moved here, I got of the metro at what is now my stop, and made a turn to the left from the big street. It was February, and bitter cold had a lock on Berlin. At the end of the street I had turned on, I saw – nothing. Not a house, not a tree, it was as thought the street led right up to a hole. I had no idea what that might be and I was early for the meeting with the property manager who was supposed to show me what is now my flat. So I went down the street and to see what the great nothing was. This is approximately what I found.
Width. Air. Freshness. A horizon that wasn’t limited by the nearest skyscarper or even just three storey building. In the distance the old airport terminals can be seen – built under the Nazis, they are impressive, functional, and of their own estranging fascist aesthetics that one is compelled to dislike, but can’t help finding impressive. I looked across the great barren field and knew that I desperately wanted the flat that was so close to it. And I got it. The field is now basically my backyard.
When you walk either one of the two airstrips and you look North, you have a beautiful view that includes the old radio tower with its funny looking white ball on top, you see the TV tower in the distance, church towers, and one of my personal favourites, the two minarettes of the mosque that is close by at Columbiadamm (and that has a beautiful small cemetery worth checking out!). Maybe it is the Northern German gal inside of me that feels drawn to this place. I am just in love with being able to see that far while no mountain, not even a hill disrupts the view.
On a clear summer’s day, when there is wind on the field, you can see people doing all kind of kite sports. Not just the kite skaters in this picture – there are people on windsurfing skateboards, or just people flying stuntkites. The sky is completely bestrewn with kites of all colours, shapes and sizes, and there is wooshing noises as you walk past. I especially love the skaters with the traction kites. They make amazing stunts and fly several meters high, pulling themselves up in the air with their skates attached to their feet, only to land on the airstrip again and be drawn by windpower with amazing speed across the concrete desert.
I love to come to the field on weekends for a walk or just to sit somewhere, in some remote corner, or even inmidst of everything, and think. It is amazing that even on a day when the field is packed with people, you will always find a way to feel as though you were the only person there, because people scatter. When there is only wind and the wide sky, my thoughts can run free and I can find peace.
On the East Side, there is a Guerilla Gardening Project. On the North Side there is a minigolf course made out of trash and a baseball field. On the South and West Sides there is virtually nothing. The airstrips stretch out betwen the West and the East, and walking them always feels a bit like that slow motion scene in Armageddon.
The most indescribable thing is the field in winter, just before they close it for the night (because you cannot enter at night as to prevent vandalism). If you walk on there just before closing time, you will be completely alone on a 355 hectar area before long. The moon will hide behind clouds, and the air will be pregnant with humidity. It will set on your clothes like a cover. You will feel cold and damp and very alone. And alive like you have hardly ever felt before. At least that is how I experience it. I usually start singing. Loudly, desperately against the noises of the wind and the emptiness. The city is glowing at the margins of the field, and I am all by myself, fighting the demons of my thoughts, bowing to the good spirits inside of me. No picture can bring across the atmosphere of those moments.
My favourite time of the day on the field though is, without a doubt, dusk. There aren’t just the special weekend walks or the long reading sessions, not just the people watching or all the funny little interim arrangements that can be found there. The most intimate moments on the field are the ones I have every day when I come home from work from early Spring through late fall. I used to have a cigarette on the field before I went home. Now I just sit and watch the sun set. The sky is so wide, the colours so intense, and I feel so at home in this big, crazy moloch of a city.
No, I never quite knew how to write all of this down so far. I always figured that I needed to go there just one more time to get that one special anecdote, or take that one beautiful picture. But then again there will always be another perfect moment, another extraordinary experience on the field, and yet I will never be able to describe it sufficiently in all its width, greatness and beauty.