Urban-development master planning. Image courtesy of Tempelhofer Freiheit
Berlin needs flats. Everyone agrees. And, although I question the competency and judgement of Mayor Klaus Wowereit in the management of almost everything (airport, refugees, cultural funding, privatisation of everything), his government's plan to finally address the housing crisis – build around 7000 new units a year – is worth supporting. Building flats on the Tempelhofer Feld is part of that future. The city-sponsored Tempelhofer Freiheit development calls for 1700 flats, the cool-looking new central library (in an "education zone") and a row of commercial buildings along the A100 Autobahn – who wants to live or rollerblade next to the motorway, anyway?
I know I sound like a reactionary wanker when I say this, but I hope the 100% Tempelhofer Feld people – who are against ANY kind of construction on the field, even a library – fail miserably in their efforts. They now claim to have collected 222,000 signatures to get a city-wide referendum on the issue. More than the 173,000 required by law, apparently. Let's wait for the final count, though. Thousands of these signatures could be invalid because they come from non-citizens or tourists.
Why are these people so fanatical about not building anything on this windswept wasteland? A wasteland they have so cleverly renamed a Wiesenmeer (meadow-sea) – a rather romantic notion for a massive lawn with a few strips of tarmac running through it.
They overstate the ecological significance of the field. They claim that, through air currents, it helps cool off nearby neighbourhoods in the summer by a few degrees. So what? Since when was that a reason not to build needed housing?
They nostalgically point to the historical and cultural significance of the site. That has never prevented anyone from building anything in Berlin. And of course they underscore its attractiveness as a place to fly a kite, go rollerblading or whatever.
This is little doubt that Berlin will grow economically and in terms of population in the foreseeable future. You have to put people somewhere. And why not include Tempelhof? Could be a nice place to live! We need more buildings in this city. More building will have a positive effect on rental prices. Following reunification, there was a housing shortage in the early 1990s. A wave of speculative overbuilding followed. By late 1990s rental prices in Berlin had stabilised due to supply outstripping demand. Building more flats will take the pressure off the market.
Under the government plan only the edges of the field will be developed. That leaves an area larger than the Tiergarten unbuilt! Space for community gardens, joggers and kite-flyers. Isn't that enough?