Venue changes

Refugee Shelter Hits Berlin Cultural Plans

Last year's Formula E grand prix at Tempelhof was a runaway success.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    • With more than a million refugees arriving in Germany last year, the country is scrambling to accommodate them. Doing so means many people are having to make changes or sacrifices.
  • Facts


    • Building a refugee shelter in the grounds of the former Tempelhof airport has forced several of Berlin’s major events to move or reschedule.
    • The Formula E grand prix will move to the city center and the Lollapalooza music festival, which attracts 50,000, will move to a park.
    • Many residents and businessmen are unhappy about the moves.
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The housing of thousands of refugees at Berlin’s former Tempelhof airport has set off a scramble to find new venues for some 30 events previously held on its grounds.

Among the biggest attractions forced to alter plans is the 2016 Berlin stop on the Formula E series for electric cars. The e-mobility race was held last year on roads in and around the airfield, which closed in 2008 when it was turned into a huge park.

But housing some of the more than 1 million migrants in Germany has become priority this year. The famous Nazi-designed terminal building and hangars that sweep round a long section of the airfield’s perimeter are being converted to accommodate up to 7,000 refugees, putting paid to events such as Formula E, the Lollapalooza music festival and Bread & Butter fashion fair.

But organizers at the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile, motorsport’s governing body, have decided to stick with Berlin for its May 21 Formula E race. Now the Berlin Senate is seeking to shift the circuit to Karl-Marx-Allee, the broad communist-era boulevard that once hosted East German military parades. The 2-kilometer (1.2-mile) route would run from the famous Alexanderplatz.

“That’s a catastrophe. The entire street will be blocked. Where are customers supposed to park?”

Jörg Flöckner, Bicycle shop owner

The idea is unprecedented, but apparently municipal agencies – pressured by the huge influx of refugees – are ready to make daring decisions now.

Other options included holding the event on the Avus, a former motor racing circuit, or Strasse des 17. Juni, an east-west corridor running through central Berlin. But the Avus must remain open to traffic for the final of the German soccer cup, and Strasse des 17. Juni was already booked for the Avon Berlin Women’s Run.

“In the end, the event organizer makes the decision,” said Petra Rohland from the traffic office of the Berlin Senate.

On Monday, Formula E organizers praised the new route. Now it has to submit safety plans that the FIA will examine. Approval is likely, said president Jean Todt. Berlin is one of the most important cities in the world, he added, and the new route fits “perfectly.”

But residents and business owners living and working near Karl-Marx-Allee aren’t so sure.

About 8,500 people live in the area, with pharmacies, restaurants, travel agencies and bookshops lining the avenue. Besides occasional protest marches, not much happens in this part of the city.

A Grand Prix-style race would certainly be a change of pace. Plans include a long pit stop, galleries for up to 14,000 spectators and a fan zone with entertainment.

Jürgen Seifert worries that customers won’t be able to get to his bookshop. “Traffic will likely have to be redirected in the entire area,” he said.

Jörg Flöckner said it would hurt business at his bike shop on a Saturday, the biggest sales day of the week. “That’s a catastrophe,” he said. “The entire street will be blocked. Where are customers supposed to park?”

Others were open to the idea, including Thomas Dürrhauer, who was trying out a bike seat at Mr. Flöckner’s shop.

“That is very Berlin,” he said. “There’s nothing that you can’t find here. Maybe I’ll even watch it.”

The old hangars at Tempelhof have been converted into a refugee shelter. Source: AP


Meanwhile, a surprising new site has been found for Lollapalooza Berlin, the big music festival scheduled for September 10-11. This year’s show — which will attract an estimated 50,000 revellers and feature headliners such as Radiohead, Kings of Leon and New Order — will shift to Treptower Park by the Spree River in the east of the city.

The decision is a surprise because last summer an application by the Love Parade music festival was rejected as the parks chief for the Treptow-Köpenik district said the park couldn’t handle such huge numbers of people.

The responsible councilor, Rainer Hölmer of the center-left Social Democrats, still believes that today. But several weeks ago he said he received an urgent request from the Berlin Senate. It was looking for an alternative site for Lollapalooza and only Treptower Park would work. All other options, including fairgrounds near the new airport at Selchow, had been excluded.

Lollapalooza organizers are enthusiastic about Treptower Park as its new site.

“We have found a site whose unique character, energies and charm fit Lollapalooza Berlin wonderfully,” said festival director Fruzsina Szép. The intention is to treat the park with care and leave “something sustainable on-site.”

Discussions with district officials are underway. Mr. Hölmer said the festival lawns would have to be replanted at the organizer’s cost.

Another major event, a new version of the bankrupt Bread & Butter fashion fair, was planned for Tempelhof in January but had to be canceled. A spokesperson for Zalando, which acquired the former trade show last year, acknowledged that housing refugees at the airport was more important.

Now a new date and site have been found — September 2-4 at the Arena in Treptow. The halls along the Spree will host a fashion show, sales exhibition, conference and concerts.

Zalando said it expects “several thousand visitors,” far fewer than in the heyday of Bread & Butter. It is supposed to be a mixture of public and professional fair. “We don’t want an elitist event,” said Zalando spokeswoman Sandra Petersen.

It isn’t certain whether there will be a repeat in 2017. “We’re trying it out,” said Ms. Petersen.


This article originally appeared in the newspaper Der Tagesspiegel. To contact the author:

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