Nature’s Lawnmowers

Once Site of Historic Airlift, Berlin's Tempelhof Airport Being Put Out to Pasture

Tempelhofer Feld
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Berlin’s massive Tempelhof Freiheit park has become immensely popular since opening in 2010. But the fate of former airport has proven contentious, as residents of the German capital voted in a referendum in spring 2014 to limit its development.

  • Facts


    • Tempelhof Airport was once the world’s largest building before being superseded the U.S. Pentagon
    • The airport played a key role in the Berlin Airlift, which thwarted Soviet attempts to starve out West Berlin.
    • The last flight from Tempelhof was in 2008. Berliners now love the park’s wide-open spaces.
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At the high of the Berlin Airlift back in 1948, U.S. and British cargo planes landed minutes apart to keep the western half of the city alive amid a Soviet blockade. Now nearly seven decades later, the former airfield in the heart of the reunited German capital could soon become home to herds of wild horses and cattle.

The quirky proposal is part of serious deliberations on how best to care for the massive 303 hectare green space.

Closed as an active airport in 2008, Tempelhof was reopened as a vast park in 2010. Amid initial skepticism, Berliners soon flocked to its wide-open places to picnic and fly kites, as well as skating and bike riding on the old tarmac.

“We are discussing using grazing animals to control the meadows at Tempelhof,” said park manager Michael Krebs, noting the environmental impact would need to be assessed before any final decision.

“Tempelhof offers the chance to bring attractive grazing animals into the heart of the metropolis”

Ingo Kowarik, Berlin’s commissioner for nature conservation

“We also have to see if they would be compatible with visitors’ many recreational activities.”

Turning the field into a giant prairie would be another twist in the colorful history of Tempelhof Airport, which originally opened for air traffic in 1923.

Expanded under the Nazis, the iconic terminal building was once the world’s largest building before being surpassed by the U.S. Pentagon building in 1941. It is now frequently used as an event location for concerts and the city’s main fashion trade fair.

The city was hoping to build apartments and office space along the outer edges of the park, but Berlin residents voted in a referendum in spring 2014 to limit its development. It’s unclear whether that could affect the construction of stables for any animals, but Ingo Kowarik, Berlin’s commissioner for nature conservation, has advocated introducing grazing herds since 2009.

Horses are already used to maintain fields elsewhere in Germany. Photo: DPA

Currently the landscape company that mows Tempelhof’s huge lawn areas does so according to the life cycle of the Eurasian skylark, a bird species enjoying special environmental protection in Germany.

Finicky lawnmowers

Mr. Krebs said there were also other ecological factors to consider. Whereas park landscapers can mow around protected types of plants, grazing animals might simply chomp them. On the other hand, horses, cows and sheep would also avoid bitter and poisonous plants. That could drastically alter the flora and fauna of the park.

But Mr. Kowarik is convinced the potential benefits for the city’s denizens would outweigh any downside.

“Many children and youths only have virtual contact to nature,” said Mr. Kowarik. “Tempelhof offers the chance to bring attractive grazing animals into the heart of the metropolis.”

Wild horses living in the middle of Berlin would also give a positive boost to the image of a city increasingly reliant on tourism, according to Mr. Kowarik. “It would be a very special project that would be noticed around the world,” he said.

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