Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Der Flughafen Tempelhof in Entwurfszeichnungen und Modellen, 1939-1944

 photo Dittrich_DerFlughafenTempelhof.jpg

Elke Dittrich, Lukas Verlag, Berlin, Germany, 2005, ISBN 3-936872-52-X. Illustrated, softcover, published in German.

Cover image © by Lukas Verlag, 2005.


There are numerous books dealing with Berlin's now closed Tempelhof airport and its changeful and often uneasy history. The airport's location within the city of Berlin, combined with its very distinctive architecture and the fact that it played an important role in the Third Reich (both as an airfield and aircraft manufacturing centre), have long made it a unique research project for historians and authors.

Built on what originally were military drill grounds then still outside of Berlin, Tempelhof airfield first became operational in 1923. By 1933, it had become a more substantial facility. It was only in the course of the architectural planning for Adolf Hitler's vision for a rebuilt Berlin, however, that Tempelhof airfield was earmarked to be expanded and developed into a massive airport, clearly designed to radiate power and progress. The new Tempelhof airport was to be an integral part of Berlin's projected north-south axis, itself an utterly revealing expression of the megalomania which had infected the ruling political class.

As it happened, the rebuilt Tempelhof airport was among the very few components of the plan for a new Berlin that were actually completed and, perhaps even more astonishingly, survived the war relatively intact. To this day, the airport's city-facing, curved buildings indicate the once intended circular shape of the large open space in front of the facility. As it proved to be impossible to finish the circular plaza before the end of the war, however, the airport buildings now lack context and thus appear somewhat like lone pieces of a long-lost puzzle.

Tempelhof is probably the most extensively documented German airport of the period before 1945, by means of both magazine articles and books. Its history and operations as an airport have been covered, for example, in the lavishly illustrated Tempelhof - Der Flughafen im Herzen Berlins (Helmut Trunz, GeraMond Verlag, Germany, 2008) or in Flughafen Tempelhof - Berlins Tor zur Welt (Frank Schmitz, be.bra verlag GmbH, Germany, 1997), to name but two of many. The truly excellent Flughafen Tempelhof: Chronik des Berliner Werkes der "Weser" Flugzeugbau GmbH, Bremen - Bau der Kriegsflugzeuge Ju 87 Stuka und FW 190, 1939 - 1945 (F.-Herbert Wenz, Stedinger Verlag, Germany, 2000), on the other hand, is an exhaustive look at wartime aircraft production at the site.

Notwithstanding the large number of publications on Tempelhof airport, Elke Dittrich's Der Flughafen Tempelhof in Entwurfszeichnungen und Modellen, 1939-1944 [Tempelhof Airport in Design Drafts And Models, 1939-1944] is a fascinating little booklet. In spite of containing a mere 36 pages, it's crammed full of information, drawings, and photos. Following a brief introduction and a look at the plans for the rebuilding of Berlin, Dittrich chronicles the evolution of the designs for the new airport in the capital of the Third Reich. An abundance of drawings and photos illustrates the text (some of them previously unpublished), further enhanced by beautifully detailed captions.

Dittrich's text is partially based on her earlier extensive research on Tempelhof airport's architect Ernst Sagebiel, and it also investigates the impact of the involvement of the German air ministry (RLM) and the General Building Inspector for the Capital of the Reich, Albert Speer. While highlighting the correlation between the desires for functionality and political representation, she thankfully refrains from delving into the usual stereotypes. Instead, the reader is provided with facts and information.

Elke Dittrich's Der Flughafen Tempelhof in Entwurfszeichnungen und Modellen, 1939-1944 focuses almost exclusively on the planning and design of Tempelhof airport during the Third Reich, leaving the exploration of its subsequent operations and history to works by other authors. As such, however, it is simply magnificent.

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