Berlin's Tempelhof Airport to become Germany's largest refugee camp

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Berlin is to extend the refugee camp at the decommissioned Tempelhof Airport, making room for 7,000 people in and around one of the German capital's most iconic buildings.

The city's government has changed a law to allow extra refugee shelters to be built on a section of Tempelhof's vast airfield – which has previously been used to host events including the DMY Berlin design fair.

This overturns a 2014 public vote that sought to preserve the open space as Berlin's largest public park.



The government says that expanding the Tempelhof camp is the only way to avoid homelessness among refugees, but the move has met fierce opposition in the cabinet.

"We don't want anyone who has experienced war and terror to have to sleep on the streets," MP Daniel Buchholz told parliament during the debate on 28 January 2016, when the motion was passed.

It was first announced that the former airport would become an "emergency refugee shelter" for at least 1,200 refugees in September 2015 – and no longer accessible to the public due to security concerns.

Europe's refugee crisis has seen the displacement of millions escaping war and suffering in the Middle East and North Africa. This has led to the creation of makeshift camps at railway stations and international borders.

These include the "Jungle" camp at Calais, which was part-built using materials left over from street artist Banksy's Dismaland theme park but is being partially cleared by the French government.

Tempelhof was first built in 1927, then reconstructed on a massive scale by the Nazi government in the 1930s. It acted as the centre of the Berlin Airlift of 1948-49, when western allies dropped supplies into West Berlin after the USSR cut of road and rail links.

The terminals arcing hangers have been often used to host large-scale events, including concerts, exhibitions and trade fairs. The World Architecture Festival was due to host its event at Tempelhof in November this year, but has relocated due to uncertainty over the site.

Currently the giant spaces are occupied by tents and partitioned spaces, each accommodating around 10 people. There are no cooking facilities, and the refugees have to take a bus to shower at a separate tent, according to German news site Deutsche Welle.



Following the law change, five further temporary structures will be built on the site, as well as sports areas, a kindergarten, a school and other facilities.

However, the law also stipulates that these buildings must be taken down by 31 December 2019.

In an interview with Dezeen last year, humanitarian-aid expert Kilian Kleinschmidt said that governments should stop thinking about refugee camps as temporary places. Earlier this month, Minority Report designer Alex McDowell explained how he is applying a design technique used on feature films to develop future cities in the face of huge refugee migrations.

  • Mr J

    Merkel strikes again.

  • WaxWing

    Say what you will about the Germans but they are the best in the world at making camps.

  • Doubtful Dodger

    Germany seems to be the only country in Europe with a government worthy of the name. Every other nation, including the UK, seems to have a bunch of weak-minded politicians running after whatever the populist opinion of the day is. That isn’t leadership because people are generally stupid. Leadership is being able to explain the difficult to the stupid, and then bring them with you to that position.

    Germany is taking a difficult and ethical route because its leader is strong. Many residents in the country are becoming unhappy, but I just hope they will all be strong enough to show other European nations how pathetic their collective response to this crisis has been. Refugees are humans fleeing bombs paid for by your taxes, in your name. And now many want to turn their backs on them, preferring to watch Ant and Dec on Saturday night television. It’s enough to make you sick.

    • Ioandrei

      No mate, you’re mistaken, only 48 per cent of those people are fleeing the Syrian war, over 70 per cent of the so-called refugees are young males (according to the UN, no less!), leaving behind the vulnerable to fend for themselves in the countries neighbouring Syria or in the other non war-torn countries they come from.

      Many of them come from North Africa (you knew there’s a war going on in Morocco, right?), Iran, even Georgia and Macedonia. According to the UN international definition on the status of refugee, you automatically lose that status once you’ve entered and left the first safe country. Most of these people are targeted welfare tourists. And Madame Merkel is bending backwards to show the world that Germany is a “country with heart”. I wonder where the brains have been left at.

      Please spare us the usual leftist propaganda on accommodating the whole of the third world over in Europe. It is unfeasible, self-destructive and narrow-minded. We have to help these people at home, otherwise there’s absolutely no future for them down there, and none for us up here in Europe. Besides, what Merkel really wants is cheap labour, but she’s got it wrong again, there would have been a huge pool of skilled labourers at her disposal in Ukraine, for instance, but no, she chose people who are of an archaic, misogynistic culture and who are about 65 per cent functionally illiterate, according to German academic sources themselves: http://www.zeit.de/2015/47/integration-fluechtlinge-schule-bildung-herausforderung

      Again, spare us the usual leftie bullsh*t. Bring facts to the table and solutions, not uplifting narratives about “strong leadership”.

      • lefty bullshiter

        Would you call people who moved from Spain, Italy and Greece to Germany because of poor economic prospects in their home countries “welfare tourists” too?

        • Ioandrei

          If they went there legally for work, within the framework of existing applicable laws, no. But there are plenty of people from within the EU, though, especially the eastern countries (I come from one of them myself), who practice welfare tourism, particularly in the UK and Scandinavia.

          Speaking of Germany, the EU was built around the principle of rule of law, which is central to Western civilisation itself. Only a fraction of those people have a right to be there, legally. The other ones are simply taking advantage of the West’s moral narcissism.

          • lefty bullshitter

            A) What’s wrong with trying to improve your life and career chances? If you move to a different country within the EU, you enjoy the same rights and (usually) the same benefits as the local population. Accusing people of making use of their rights is rather strange.

            B) Refugees who are not granted asylum will be sent back. That’s part of existing laws too.

    • Jordan

      Why have 140,000 registered refugees gone missing in the last year in Germany, my town (in England) is in turmoil as a direct result of Merkel, the EU, and the spineless Cameron. Open boarders has already caused huge racial tension and hate crime has increased tenfold over Europe, Europe is on the brink of collapse, and Merkel is the captain at the helm, heading straight for an iceberg. Taxes pay for bombs, they also pay for their benefits when they refuse to work. The ones who do work are so desperate they work practically for nothing, driving wages down, working-class people are feeling the brunt, and its people like you who take the moral high ground. Come to Luton, Bradford, Nottingham, Rotherham, east London, and then repeat your snotty-nosed comment!

      • Ioandrei

        By far the best comment I’ve read in a long while on Dezeen. Sadly, my comment sharing a similar point of view was censored by Dezeen yesterday.

        • Hi Ioandrei, as mentioned above, we’ve published your comment in full. Please accept our apologies for the delay.

          • Ioandrei

            OK, thank you.

        • Jordan

          Political correctness is rife, people are just blind. It is genuinely sad.

      • angela

        Refugees do not drive wages down – only business owners can do that. And if they can get away with it please blame politicians in your country for not installing proper laws to avoid it.

    • Ioandrei

      Dezeen censored my reply to the comment above. Unthinkable. Well done, Dezeen!

      • Hi Ioandrei, your comment was published in full. Sorry for the delay!

  • Hannes Gumpp

    “Oh, wow – I exhibited there.” What a frustrating aspect in our profession: we are able to fill exactly that space with idealism, chairs, pendant lamps and Avantgarde. All that on a very high level. But when it comes to real human needs, we realise we’re not even asked.

  • Hannes Gumpp

    “Wow, I exhibited there!” What a frustrating thing for all of us: we are able to fill exactly that space with idealism, chairs, pendant lamps and Avantgarde. All that on a very high level. But when it comes to real needs we realise we are not even asked.