Backers of a historic German Tempelhof airport lost a referendum Sunday on saving the hub of the 1948-49 Berlin airlift from closure. Only 21.7 percent of the 2.4 million eligible voters supported keeping the airport.
Backers of a historic German airport lost a referendum Sunday on saving the hub of the 1948-49 Berlin airlift from closure, officials said, meaning it is all but certain to be shut down in October.
With all the ballots counted, initiators fell short of the necessary quorum to maintain Tempelhof airport, the city-state's electoral commission said.
Only 21.7 percent of the 2.4 million eligible voters supported keeping the airport, a symbol of the embattled city's survival during the Cold War. Twenty-five percent was required.
The referendum, which would not have been legally binding, was organised as a last-ditch rescue attempt by supporters of the facility just outside the city centre, one of Europe's oldest passenger airports.
They had aimed to pressure the Berlin government to reverse a decade-old decision to shut the facility ahead of the opening of an expanded international airport southeast of Berlin in 2011.
Berlin media gave the referendum debate blanket coverage in recent weeks, with most newspapers in favour of Tempelhof. The daily Berliner Zeitung said the campaign had enlivened a sense of civic pride regardless of its outcome.
"The fight for the airport was worth it nevertheless because it showed that people are willing to get involved for their city, its landscape and its approach to history," it wrote in an editorial to be published Monday.
"That is good for Berlin.
Tempelhof opened in 1926 and a vast terminal built a decade later ranks as the largest building in western Europe.
After Berlin was split into east and west following World War II, the Allies ferried hundreds of thousands of tonnes of food, coal and other supplies, mainly into Tempelhof, in a virtually non-stop airlift when the Soviets blockaded West Berlin in 1948.
Even after the blockade was lifted in 1949, shipments continued until September of that year to build up a surplus in case of a renewed attempt by Joseph Stalin to starve West Berlin into submission.
German unification in 1990, however, marked the beginning of the end for Tempelhof.
The facility only served 630,000 passengers in 2006, compared to 12 million for Tegel airport on the city's northwestern fringe, and six million at Schoenefeld to the southeast.
When Tempelhof and Tegel are closed, the expanded and modernised Schoenefeld facility is to become the capital's sole airport.
Ahead of Sunday's referendum, Tempelhof's supporters used a multimillion-euro advertising campaign to appeal to Berliners sense of nostalgia.
But the centre-left Berlin administration vowed to push forward with its plans to mothball Tempelhof regardless of the outcome of the vote, saying a reversal could threaten investment in the cash-strapped capital.
Those calling for its closure say Tempelhof's central location is a nuisance for residents and a security risk due to low-flying planes in a heavily populated area.
They have suggested the creation of a cultural and media centre in its terminal and a park to replace its runways.
But conservatives, including Chancellor Angela Merkel, called for the airport to be kept open for business commuters until at least 2011.
They say its unique Nazi-era architecture, central location and historical legacy make it irreplaceable.
Date created : 2008-04-27