Thank you Tegel: Berliners bid emotional farewell to Cold War airport

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BERLIN (Reuters) - Berlin's venerable Tegel airport hosted its final flight on Sunday, a Paris-bound Air France plane that left to cheers and a fountain salute from the terminal's fire engines.

First opened to commercial aviation in 1960, Tegel was one of the main gateways linking West Berlin, an exclave of democratic West Germany deep inside Communist East Germany, with the rest of the world.

Sirens blared and hundreds of airport workers lined the airport tarmac to watch a motorcade escort the final jet to the runway, 60 years after an Air France flight became the first commercial flight to touch down on it.

Due to its Cold War history, many Berliners feel an emotional tie to the airport, which started life as a makeshift air base built by French occupying forces in a matter of weeks to send in supplies to West Berlin when Soviet forces blockaded it in 1948.

"It's very emotional," said Sabine Stuerz, there to watch the airport's closing. "Nobody understands why a city airport is being closed. But that's just the way it is."

Many wrote "Thank you TXL" on social media, referring to the airport by the abbreviation familiar from decades of air tickets.

The closure comes days after the opening, nine years behind schedule, of Berlin's new international airport on the opposite side of town.

(Reporting by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Susan Fenton)