Berlin's Cold War lifeline Tegel finally closes

Berlin (AFP) –


Berlin's beloved Cold War-era Tegel airport finally closed its doors Sunday after a last flight took off, one week after a much-delayed replacement hub opened on the other side of the German capital.

Air France flight AF1235 to Paris was the very last plane to leave Tegel on Sunday afternoon, AFP photographers saw.

"I'll say it quite clearly: it's a day when the hearts of many people are bleeding," Berlin mayor Michael Mueller told news agency DPA.

"For us Berliners, Tegel was the gateway to the world" during the long Cold War decades when West Berlin was a democratic exclave inside the communist German Democratic Republic, surrounded by the Berlin Wall.

A hand-picked group of passengers were aboard Tegel's last departure, which took place as most of the world's aircraft remain grounded during the coronavirus pandemic.

Thousands of people had gathered on Saturday to watch the last publicly accessible flights leave.

Berlin's new BER airport opened southeast of the capital last week after nine years of delay, and special flights by Lufthansa and Easyjet landed without a hitch.

Air France was the first airline to operate a regular service to Tegel from 1960, when it stood in the divided city's French-controlled sector.

Originally built to handle 2.5 million passengers a year, Tegel passed 20 million in 2014 and developed a reputation in recent years for crowding, delays and lost baggage.

It remained in operation throughout the delays to BER in a nine-year-long reprieve to its original closing date.

The former airport is set to host a whole new district, with homes for 10,000 people along with shops, schools and other facilities.

Its hexagonal terminal -- now a protected historic monument -- will become an urban development centre run by the Beuth University of Applied Sciences.