Go out on to the street and ask the average Berliner for the one thing the city is missing, and they'll probably give you a startled look and keep walking. Approach them in a more relaxed social environment when their guard is down however, and many will reply 'a beach' or 'the sea'. Typically in tune with the ever so slightly masochistic strain imbedded in every Berliner, this is a foolish, unrealistic and utterly hopeless wish. Besides the technical difficulties in transporting the entire city to a coastline, or carving a chunk out of north-eastern Germany, a maritime Berlin would be a fundamentally different city. The climate would blur; no more hot dry summers, meaning no more open air parties and bustling parklife, no more freezing winters, meaning no more waking up to snow and grumbling down the street in 5 layers of clothing. The seasons would melt together in to the miserable 365 day rainy season typical of every North Sea city. 'So move it to the Med!' they might retort. Besides a huge shift in the tourist industry from a mix of culture vultures and easyjet ravers, towards the more sunburned, anthem chanting type of tourist, and not to mention the associated influx in tacky hotels and chain restaurants, this would only end in Berlin gradually turning to uninhabitable desert along with the rest of southern Europe, thus losing its status as potential post apocalyptic capital of the free world.
Should Berliners be more realistic in their dreams ('better sewers?'), or should they stick to their stubborn instinct and get that beach?
Flooding the recently closed Tempelhof Airport would open up a catalogue of new opportunities for the city, not least a vast beach with what would become the largest beach hut on earth forming a grand backdrop. Surfing and beach volleyball would come to central Berlin, bringing with them a fresh wave of slackers, hippies and drop-outs to contain the growing army of yuppies and investors. Parts of the reservoir could be left to nature, forming wetlands and wildlife reserves, other parts could be given over to city infrastructure such as forms of energy generation and water cleansing systems (solving the sewage problem). This competition entry for Quito's Mariscal Sucre International Airport shows how an integrated system of cleansing pools, wildlife pools and leisure pools could work in a disused airport. Although Berlin is well surrounded by water and therefore fairly unlikely to flood, you can't be too safe in these unstable times, and more water storage upstream could help genuinely endangered cities such as Hamburg downstream. In the winter it might freeze and become a place for Christmas markets and skating, in spring it would be visited by birds from thousands of miles away and be full of fisherman and ducklings, in the high summer special sea-buses would take tourists around a strange juxtaposition of totalitarian architecture and soft landscaping, and in the autumn the Berliner could gaze from the top of the hill made of the dug out land (which would look something but not quite like this one) across his new waterworld.
Perhaps most importantly it would also give Berliners their request when asked for the one thing the city does definately not need: 'more buildings'. The Tempelhof See would certainly add a new dimension to Berlin's problemchild Neukoeln and therefore probably indirectly contribute to the gentrification its citizens so fear. Yet by maintaining current densities and refusing the temptation to cover the city in new build, a post reunification indulgence which has only led to disused new buildings standing alongside the disused old buildings, this could arguably be a more sustainable and efficient form of gentrification, and an opportunity for Berlin to prove its forward looking urban credentials.