Berlin’s city government plans to build as many as 1,700 affordable homes at the Tempelhof airport complex that was used for the U.S. airlift during the Cold War.

Development of the site that’s currently being used as a park will begin in 2016, according to a statement from the Berlin City Planning Office today. Once this project is complete, the city will add buildings including a library to three additional sites on the complex, using up about a quarter of the airfield.

The new properties will help meet rising demand for homes in the German capital, where new construction has lagged household growth, said Michael Mueller, the head of planning.

“It’s in the interests of all Berlin that we create affordable housing in the city center,” Mueller said.

Tempelhof, whose stone-clad terminal built by the Nazis in the 1930s, was closed to air traffic in 2008 and its main building is used for events including an annual beer festival. The airfield, which has two runways, has been turned into parkland where visitors jog, roller-blade on the tarmac and barbecue.

Brandenburg Gate

The airfield, covering an area of 380 hectares (939 acres) and located about 7 kilometers (4 miles) south of Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, is slightly bigger than London’s Hyde Park. About 230 hectares of the airfield will be left once all four projects are complete, according to today’s statement.

Following the defeat of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich in 1945, Germany was divided into four zones of occupation by the U.S., the Soviet Union, the U.K. and France. Berlin was located in the middle of the Soviet zone, trapped behind what became the Iron Curtain, and was also divided into four sections held by the victorious allies.

In 1948, in a bid to take control of the entire city, the Soviets blocked all roads, railways and canals leading to West Berlin which included the U.S., British and French sectors of the divided city. The Western allies responded with an airlift of supplies for the besieged city including food and fuel using Tempelhof airport. In 1949, the Soviets lifted the blockade.

Prolonged Protests

Activists have been protesting plans to develop the area since Berlin’s government first raised the idea in 2007.

“The character of Tempelhof will get lost if they build on it,” said Felix Herzog, a spokesman for 100% Tempelhofer Feld e.V., a group that’s planning a demonstration against the development on Sunday. The group will collect signatures for a petition calling for the project to be scrapped.

The construction will cut the airfield’s expanse and threaten local flora and fauna, Herzog said. There are other empty plots that could be used instead, he said.

Protests against gentrification often accompany development plans in Berlin. Rents have climbed about 33 percent and home prices have jumped 48 percent in the past five years, according to data compiled by Immobilien Scout GmbH.

In March, protesters including Hollywood actor and singer David Hasselhoff temporarily halted construction on an apartment building that involved removal of parts of the Berlin Wall. Last year, police evicted artists squatting in the Tacheles building, a former department store that had become a tourist attraction, after a legal battle that lasted more than a decade.

Price Curb

New construction will help curb rising housing costs, Maren Kern, head of the BBU Association of Berlin-Brandenburg Residential Companies, said by e-mail.

“Berlin is growing and by 2030 we’ll need another 130,000 apartments,” she said. “That’s why construction on the Tempelhof airfield is necessary.”

The Tempelhof homes will be built by the city’s state-owned residential landlords Degewo AG and Stand und Land Wohnbauten GmbH. Berlin has six such companies which own about 280,000 apartments in Berlin, most of which are rented for less than market rates.

Private developers were not invited to participate because Berlin wants to ensure that the new apartments are affordable, Mueller said at the press conference.

“Every day I have a letter on my desk from a private investor who wants to take a piece of the land off my hands,” said Mueller. “That’s exactly what we don’t want.”

Private developers may be invited to participate at a later date, he said.

Tempelhof is Europe’s largest landmarked building, said Martin Pallgen, spokesman for the Tempelhof Projekt GmbH, the state-owned manager of the site.

Editors: Andrew Blackman and Leon Mangasarian. To contact the reporter on this story: Dalia Fahmy in Berlin at To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew Blackman at

Photo Credit: Visitors to Tempelhof Airport, the second largest park in Germany, walk and jog on a former tarmac in 2009. Andrey Belenko / Flickr