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Berliners Vote To Keep Cold War-Era Airport Open

People in Berlin voted in a nonbinding referendum Sunday to keep the centrally located Tegel Airport open.

Berliners have voted to keep the centrally located Tegel Airport open, in a nonbinding referendum that has starkly divided the city.

The margin of victory in Sunday's vote was narrow, with 56 percent of voters supporting the plan. Tegel was built during the Cold War, when Berlin was a divided city, and has been scheduled to close after the opening of a new international airport called Berlin Brandenburg, farther from the city center.

But as NPR's Maggie Penman has reported, repeated delays have pushed back Brandenburg's opening, originally scheduled for 2012. And during that time, a movement to keep Tegel open has gained steam, leading to Sunday's vote. Maggie spelled out the pros and cons of Tegel:

"Even many fans of Tegel concede that an airport probably would not be built so close to homes and schools today. And indeed, the very thing that people like [Sven] Merkel adore about Tegel — the fact that it's so accessible, right in the middle of the city — is also the main argument for closing the airport. ...

"In addition to the noise concerns, many of the airport's neighbors want the land to be used for new affordable housing — something they say the city needs far more than two airports."

Tegel's future is still not guaranteed. Because the vote is nonbinding, the city still has the final say. As Reuters reported, Berlin Mayor Michael Müller told a local radio station that Sunday's vote created a "very difficult situation." He said he would speak to the airport's state owners about Tegel's status.

But supporters of keeping the airport open, such as Berlin Senate member Sebastian Czaja, say the result of the vote needs to be translated into action. "This is a vote that can't be reinterpreted and is clear; this is about taking political action. And we demand that it is legally implemented," he said, as Deutsche Welle reported.

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