April 28, 2008

Today's Front Pages Analysis

Probable closing of iconic airport rates limited interest in Germany

The people of Berlin, the capital of Germany, went to the polls yesterday to cast their ballots on an emotional issue that has divided the city and has national implications. It was a non-binding, first-ever referendum forced on the city by a public petition to determine the future of a longtime icon of the city — Tempelhof Airport. It has been called the oldest airport in the world and the third largest building in the world, and it may be neither or both. But it always will be remembered as the key hub of the Berlin Airlift, when the Soviet Union blockaded the city and everything — from coal to food — had to come in by U.S., British and French military aircraft to West Berlin from June 24, 1948, to May 12, 1949. Now the airport in downtown Berlin is outmoded, cannot handle today's jet traffic, and should be shut down. Or so the mayor and his coalition say. Only 21% of the 2.4 million eligible voters turned out yesterday, with 25% needed for the vote to count, even in non-binding fashion. Of those who voted, 60% want to keep Tempelhof open.

For Der Tagesspiegel, arguably Berlin’s leading daily, Tempelhof is the story of the day, with a big Page One photo and a headline that says it all: “For most Berliners, Tempelhof is all the same,” meaning the people really don’t care. There also is a sidebar with the headline “In the hangar of history.” For Die Tageszeitung, another Berlin daily, Tempelhof rates a big Page One photo, with words about the campaign having failed and the airport to close in October, all as a tease to stories inside on Pages 21 and 22. The third Berlin daily on our Web site, Die Welt, is a puzzle, with not a word on Page One about Tempelhof, although there are stories on the daily’s Web site.

There are more than a dozen other German dailies on our site this morning, so we thought that we would check them all. We found four of them with some Page One reference to Tempelhof. The Potsdamer Neueste Nachrichten, not all that far from Berlin, has a Page One piece about the Babelsberg film studios making plans to move to Tempelhof when the flying days are over. The Suedwest Presse in Ulm has a short piece about “Defeat for the Tempelhof supporters,” while the two Bremen newspapers, the Weser Kurier and the Bremer Nachrichten, have brief Page One stories about the vote.

To close with a note of personal bias: We have flown in and out of Tempelhof a great many times, particularly in the days when propeller planes were the preferred means of travel; it remains our favorite airport in all the world.

Gene Mater is a Freedom Forum media consultant.

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