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Tempelhof airport divides Berliners along cold-war lines

The German capital votes Sunday on closing the airport that served as a crucial conduit for Allied supplies during the Soviet blockade of Berlin from 1948-49.

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What Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit has considered a municipal issue is now a matter that could determine his political future – and that of the SPD.

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A leading figure in the SPD, Mr. Wowerweit has thrown his weight behind a "no" vote. If the city votes against him, it could deliver a blow not only to his aspirations of one day becoming chancellor; it could also hurt the SPD nationally if it led to Mr. Wowereit being dethroned.

"If the referendum is successful, it would be negative for the image of an important SPD politician," says Langguth. "Wowereit is considered to be one of the next generation of SPD leaders."

Wowereit has said he will close the airport regardless of how the referendum turns out. He boasted in an interview with the Berlin daily Tagesspiegel last week: "I am in touch with Berlin's soul."

Wowereit's understanding of how the city ticks has been expressed in a massive advertising campaign with posters showing class-conscious Berlin workers deriding Tempelhof as a "VIP airport" in a coarse Berlin dialect.

The Left party, whose constituents are largely in East Berlin, sent letters to voters throughout the city, urging them to vote "no" on the referendum.

Meanwhile, Wowereit's political rival, the Christian Democrat Friedbert Pflüger, has plastered the city with posters showing a person with his hand on his mouth and the words: "We won't let them keep us quiet. Save Tempelhof."

Mr. Pflüger, who ran unsuccessfully against Wowerweit in 2006, is betting that he can harness West Berlin anger over Tempelhof to reverse the airport closure and gain momentum in a renewed bid to unseat Wowereit next year. That would also give Chancellor Angela Merkel of the CDU a boost as she tries to win a stable majority without the SPD in federal elections next year.

Mrs. Merkel, who grew up in East Germany, has urged Berliners to vote in favor of keeping Tempelhof open, both for its historical significance and for the economic benefits.

Those who favor closing Tempelhof say such opposition is just rooted in the nostalgic emotions of the war generation.

But local rap group "P-Zak & Konstant" give testimony that saving Tempelhof may be catching on across generations.

Last weekend they uploaded a new hip-hop song to their MySpace page ( calling on Berliners to save Tempelhof.

"We're not political, we don't support any party," says Philipp Pietrzak, alias P-Zak. "But Tempelhof is our history and we wanted to show everybody that young people care."