Cleared for Takeoff

Will Berlin's storied Tempelhof Airport become the city's newest backlot?

Coming off its most successful year in decades, Germany's No. 1 back lot -- Studio Babelsberg -- is looking to invade the country's capital and convert Berlin's historic Tempelhof Airport into a soundstage.

Babelsberg is coming off an unprecedented string of high-profile productions -- Stephen Daldry's "The Reader," "Ninja Assassin" from James McTeigue, Bryan Singer's "Valkyrie" -- and sees Tempelhof as a prime location for its expansion plans.

For Babelsberg CEO Carl Woebcken, Tempelhof, which stretches through three -quarters of a mile of prime real estate in central Berlin, is ideal, particularly for television productions, which often prefer a shoot close to the city.

"Eighty-five% of our business is in television production, and a location near the city is a big advantage," Woebcken says.

But Babelsberg also has its eye on the airport's spacious hangars.

"They are perfect for big studio productions," says deputy head Christoph Fisser. "I mean, we aren't the first to come up with the idea of using an airport hangar for film shoots."

What makes Babelsberg's plans unique is the building itself. Tempelhof is a site steeped in history. Built in 1923, it was the world's first international airport and its main hangar, one of the largest buildings on earth.

It was also the site of one of the most audacious and impressive humanitarian campaigns of all time: the 1948-49 Berlin airlift. In response to Stalin's blockade of West Berlin, the United States and its allies supplied the city with hundreds of thousands of tons of supplies -- dropped from reconfigured bombers -- some of which had been used to demolish the city during WWII.

The airlift's success turned Tempelhof into a symbol of Western victory over communist dictatorship and secured the humble landing strip's place in the annals of world history. Tempelhof only decommissioned last fall, following an unsuccessful public protest to keep the airport open.

History could play in Babelsberg's favor as Berlin's government weighs competing proposals for the redesign of the site. Compared to more purely commercial endeavors, Babelsberg's plan would retain some of Tempelhof's mystique as a hub for international exchange. The group plans to rent hangar space to the German subsidiaries of U.S. studios, giving the majors a permanent backlot in Berlin. The allies would have approved.
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