"The ultimate feeling of freedom is when you are jumping high in the sky" Tim Retzlaff
"The history of this place is too important to just let go and build flats on" Tim Retzlaff
On a windy day several cheerful kites are coloring the sky around Berlin Tempelhof, a former airport in the south central part of Berlin. The kites have become a constant element in the scenery around here. “That feeling, when you make a jump and you’re high in the sky, that is the ultimate feeling of freedom.” Tim Retzlaff (42) is a kite landboard instructor. Tempelhof is a special place to him, a place where he made his dream come true.
Tempelhof is a very special place indeed. The enormous terminal building was rebuilt to fit Hitler’s megalomaniac wishes in the mid-1930s. Used as a plane factory during the war, the airport fell in the hands of the Allied forces after the War.
Symbol of freedom
Many former West Berliners – like Tim – cherish Tempelhof because of the airlift in the late ‘40s. West Berlin was cut off from the rest of the world by the Soviet authorities, after which the Americans decided to keep supplying West Berlin by air – landing on Tempelhof. It turned the former Nazi stronghold into a loved symbol of freedom.
The airport officially closed in 2008 and the landing field was opened up to the public in 2010. It now carries the name ‘Tempelhofer Freiheit’ – or ‘freedom’ in English. Many Berliners enjoy the gigantic park walking, running, biking or barbecuing around the landing strips. Tim enjoys the park in a more extreme way: by kite landboarding. A sport based on the popular kite surfing.
“Tempelhof is perfect for it. Because it is so big and empty, you have constant wind and there are no obstructions. Kite landboarding is a bit more dangerous than kite surfing, because of the hard surface. When you fall you can really hurt yourself,” Tim explains. The 42-year old already ripped his ankle ligaments and hurt his shoulder since he started kite landboarding back in the ‘80s. “It’s part of the deal.”
Before being a professional kite teacher, Tim used to be a carpenter. He moved from West Berlin to the eastern Prenzlauer Berg, shortly after the Wall fell. He has been living in his one bedroom apartment ever since. Although he is happy there now, it wasn’t always easy being ‘Wessi’ in the east. “I sometimes felt like an outsider. I’m sure it happened the other way around as well – but it was bad for me. I love the neighbourhood, but it was hard working with other carpenters.”
Hobby turns into job
Kite landboarding gave him the relaxation he needed. He loved it so much that he spend many years to master kite surfing, kite landboarding and even kite snowboarding. He opened up a kite school in 2011. “It started off as a hobby, but later I thought, why not make my job out of it? It is just so much fun, especially when you do it here.”
Almost every day now Tim comes to Tempelhof to teach kite landboarding. If he is not here, you can find him giving kite surfing lessons in Rügen, in Germany’s northern coastal area. Kiting has become his life. “To feel that pressure in the kite is amazing. And when you jump high, everything is suddenly so quiet and peaceful. It’s so relaxing and you feel so free.”
But the freedom many experience on Tempelhof is unfortunately temporary. Tim argues: “The local government is planning to build apartment buildings on the side of the field, starting in 2017. It’s terrible; they say they will only build on the outsides, but I am afraid they will slowly fill the space up. It means that the 50.000 people who enjoy this field daily in summer will have no place to go to. The history of this place is too important to just let go and build flats on.”
Neighbours and people who love Tempelhof have started petitions to stop the plans. “We collected 70.000 signatures, but they didn’t do anything with it. We will soon start a second round of collecting signatures. I’m afraid that again they will just ignore us – it’s too bad that a place with the word ‘Freedom’ in it, does not listen to what the people actually want.”
If the plans are approved and Tempelhof will be rebuilt, Tim will have to find another place to teach kite landboarding. “There are parks further away from Berlin, but nothing compares to what we have here. If Tempelhof is getting too small for kiting, I will have to focus on my kite surfing courses in Rügen,” he sighs. He looks around the park and follows the colourful kites in the sky with his eyes. “How can you even think of closing a unique place like this?”
Photo credits: Jonas Brandau