Posts Tagged ‘Tempelhof Airport’

Detlev Rohwedder Building History

Monday, September 4th, 2017


These days, the Detlev Rohwedder Building (Detlev-Rohwedder-Haus) in Berlin is the seat of the Bundesfinanzministerium (German Finance Ministry). However, the building wore many hats over the years and played a significant role in German history. The enormous office complex is located in the Wilhelmstrasse in central Berlin. If bricks and stones could talk, these walls would have interesting stories to tell.


Bundesfinanzministerium (Federal Finance Ministry) in Berlin. The building is named the Detlev Rohwedder Building. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2005.

Bundesfinanzministerium (Federal Finance Ministry) in Berlin. The building is named the Detlev Rohwedder Building. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2005.

Along the Leipziger Strasse, the exterior of the building is embellished with a famous wall mural, designed by Max Lingner. The mural was created during the post-WWII years when Berlin was divided and the building was located in the eastern section of Berlin. The wall mural is entitled “Building the Republic” and depicts East German excitement over the new social and political order.

How large is the Detlev Rohwedder Building?

The Detlev Rohwedder complex consists of five to seven storied buildings. At the time of its construction (1935 to 1936) it was the largest office complex in Europe. German architect, Ernst Sagebiel, designed the neoclassicist project. Sagebiel also reconstructed Tempelhof Airport on a similarly gigantic scale.  The Detlev Rohwedder building has as reinforced concrete skeleton and an exterior facing of limestone and travertine. The stone came from no fewer than 50 quarries. Even today, The Detlev Rohwedder Building remains one the largest office complexes in Berlin. It houses more than 2,100 offices, contains 4.25 miles of corridors, 17 staircases, four elevators and three paternoster lifts. The complex has two wings, an Ehrensaal (Hall of Honor) facing Wilhelmstrasse, two large inner courtyards and a facility management yard. The gross floor area totals more than 1,205,000 square feet with almost 603,000 square feet of useable space.

Detlev Rohwedder Building During the Nazi Era

The Delev Rohwedder Building initially served as the headquarters of the Reichsluftfahrtministerium (Reich Aviation Ministry). Four thousand bureaucrats and their secretaries were employed within its walls. The building played a central role in the war effort during World War II.

Detlev Rohwedder Building During the East German Era

Miraculously, the building came through World War II with only minor damage. The exception was the Ehrenhalle (Hall of Honor). It underwent major expansion and remodeling to become a Stalinist-style Festsaal (Festival Hall). Until 1948, the building served as the headquarters for the Soviet military administration. From 1947 to 1949, the Deutsche Wirtschaftskommission (German Economic Commission) was located here. During that time, the building became known as the DWK-Building.

On 7 October 1949 the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) was founded in the building’s Festival Hall. Later, the complex served the Council of Ministers of East Germany and became known as Haus der Ministerien (House of Ministries). It was in this building that East German head of state, Walter Ulbricht, insisted in June of 1961 that “no one has any intention of building a wall.” The statement was made only two months before construction of the Berlin Wall began. As a seat of governmental power, the House of Ministries was also at the center of the East German people’s uprising of 17 June 1953.

Detlev Rohwedder Building since German Reunification

Following German Reunification on 3 October 1990, the building was used by the Berlin branches of the Bundesfinanzministerium (German Finance Ministry) and by the Federal Court of Auditors. The Treuhandanstalt, an agency charged with privatizing the East German economy, occupied other parts of the building

The building was renamed the Detlev Rohwedder Building in honor of Detlev Karsten Rohwedder, head of the Treuhandanstalt, following his assassination in 1991. In the course of the relocation of the German Government from Bonn to Berlin, the German Finance Ministry transferred its head office to Berlin. During subsequent reconstruction and renovation works the structure of the offices, stone facade and the mural by Max Lingner were preserved. Conference, press and visitor centers were redesigned and equipped with state-of-the-art conference technology.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of  Walled-In is my story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.






Berlin Airlift Memorial

Monday, May 16th, 2016


The Berlin Airlift Memorial at Tempelhof Airport was dedicated in 1951 to honor those man and women who lost their lives in the Berlin Airlift. The 65-foot-tall concrete sculpture is shaped like an arched fork with three prongs at the top. Each prong symbolizes an air corridor used by Allied planes to airlift food, fuel and medicine from West Germany to West Berlin during the Berlin Blockade of 1948/49. three prongs face west toward the former American, British and French occupation zones. Every year a wreath is laid down at the Berlin Airlift Memorial, which Berliners lovingly call the Hungerkralle (hunger claw). Two similar, but smaller, memorials were erected near the former West German air bases in Frankfurt Main (1985) and Celle (1988). Their prongs face toward Berlin.

Berlin Airlift Memorial at Berlin's Tempelhof Airport. The inscription at its base reads "They gave their lives for the freedom of Berlin in service of the Berlin Airlift 1948/49", photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015

Berlin Airlift Memorial at Berlin’s Tempelhof Airport. The inscription at its base reads “They gave their lives for the freedom of Berlin in service of the Berlin Airlift 1948/49”, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015,

Why the Berlin Airlift?

In 1948/49, when the Soviet Union blocked all roads and waterways to West Berlin in order to starve the city, Tempelhof Airport became the city’s lifeline. Allied planes supplied the city for a period of 11 months with food, fuel, and everything else that was necessary for daily life. Planes landed every few minutes.

Berlin Airlift Fatalities

As much as the Berlin Airlift was a feat of logistics, accidents did happen. There were 101 fatalities, which included 39 British and 31 American servicemen.

Most of the accidents resulted from hazardous weather conditions or mechanical failures. The remaining fatalities were comprised of civilians who perished on the ground during operational support or lost their lives when aircraft accidents destroyed their homes. Seventeen American and eight British aircraft crashed during the Berlin Airlift. Commemorating those men and women who lost their lives due to the airlift, an inscription at the foot of the Berlin Airlift Memorial reads, “They gave their lives for the freedom of Berlin in service of the Berlin Airlift 1948/1949.”


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of


Gail Halvorsen – Berlin Airlift hero

Monday, May 9th, 2016

Retired US Air Force Colonel Gail Halvorsen was a First Lieutenant when he was told to help airlift flour, dried eggs, dried potatoes, dried milk and coal into West Berlin during the Berlin Blockade of 1948/49. The purpose of the mission was to keep West Berlin’s 2.2 million population from starvation. The Berlin Airlift was the biggest humanitarian aid mission in history, and Colonel Halvorsen remains one of its unforgotten heroes. The children of Berlin called him Uncle Wiggly Wings.

Why was Berlin blockaded?

Following Word War II, Germany was divided into four zones. American, British, French and Soviet forces occupied the country. Berlin, the capital, was also split into four sectors, and West Berlin ended up 100 miles inside the Soviet occupation zone. By 1948, the Soviets tried to get the three Western occupation powers to withdraw from Berlin. To hasten the process, the Soviets blocked all land and water access to West Berlin. Now, trucks, trains and barges were no longer able to supply West Berlin with food and coal. In an unprecedented logistical feat, the three Western Allies decided to supply West Berlin from the air in what is commonly known as the Berlin Airlift. For eleven months, supply planes landed every few minutes at West Berlin’s Tempelhof Airport. On 12 May 1949, the Soviet Union lifted the blockade.

How Gail Halvorsen became a Berlin Airlift hero

In a 2007 essay, the now 95-year-old Colonel Gail Halvorsen explains why the children of Berlin knew him as “Uncle Wiggly Wings.” In 1948, the beginning of the blockade, the U.S. Air Force ordered him to fly life-sustaining essentials into West Berlin. Day and night he flew a C-54 Skymaster filled with staples into West Berlin. He flew in thunderstorms, fog, ice and snow. Off duty, he slept in the loft of a farmer’s old barn. From his cockpit Gail Halvorsen could see the moonscape that had once been the  grand capital of Germany. Many buildings were mere shells. Rubble everywhere.

One day in July, when he was off duty, Colonel Gail Halvorsen walked to the end of the runway to film aircraft landings. A group of about 30 children stood behind the barbed wire fence. He walked over to the children, fully expecting them to beg for sweets as he had previously experienced in other parts of the world. But these children didn’t beg. They appeared so grateful for the flour he delivered that they didn’t think it proper to ask for more. Impressed, Gail Halvorsen reached into his pocket for some gum. But all he found were two sticks of Wrigley’s Doublemint – two sticks for 30 children. He broke them in half and passed them through the barbed wire. Now the children surprised him even more. They broke the gum into as many pieces as possible and shared them. They then tore the wrappers into pieces as well and handed them to the children who had gone without gum. The latter stuck their noses into the wrappers to savor the minty smell. Without fighting over the gum, every little face was lit with glee. Colonel Gail Halvorsen was so moved by the children’s restraint that he promised to drop more gum the next day so that every child could enjoy a piece. When the children asked how they would recognize his plane, he said he would wiggle the aircraft’s wings.

Then First Lieutenant Gail Halvorsen surrounded by Berlin children, photo courtesy of

Then First Lieutenant Gail Halvorsen surrounded by Berlin children, photo courtesy of

The following day, Gail Halvorsen made good on his promise. He fashioned three little parachutes from handkerchiefs, attached packages of sweets to them and dropped the small canopies from his plane just prior to landing. From then on he continued to drop candy from his plane, even in the Soviet sector. His generous deed caught on. By the end of the Berlin Airlift, Colonel Gail Halvorsen along with many other pilots, had dropped over 20 tons of chocolate, gum and candy over Berlin. In 1974, Uncle Wiggly Wings was awarded the German Federal Cross of Merit in Berlin for his role in the Berlin Airlift.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of