SOON after the newly reunified Germany decided, in 1991, to move its capital back to Berlin from Bonn, the discussion about a suitable airport started. Berlin had three tiny ones: the famous Tempelhof (now closed) where American and British “raisin bombers” landed during the Berlin Airlift of 1948-49, Tegel, which is also in western Berlin, and Schönefeld in the eastern part of the city. Tegel (still in use) had mainly served the airlines of the three western Allies while East Germans had used Schönefeld.
Nearly everyone agreed in principle that the new capital needed a modern and sparkling airport. Planning started in 1996, construction in 2006. The plan was to open it in 2011.
Alas, after several delays, the airport is still not operational. The buildings are ready in the state of Brandenburg that surrounds Berlin, near the old Schönefeld. But the train that arrives four times a day in the terminal does so only to ventilate the air and carries no people. The airport is due to open on October 27th. But most Berliners view that date like a second marriage, as the triumph of hope over experience.
The new airport originally got approval for handling 45m passengers a year, but is now meant for only 27m, which is roughly as many as the existing airports handle already. In fact, it can cope adequately with only 17m, says Dieter Faulenbach da Costa, an airport consultant who has appraised the project for an opposition party in Brandenburg’s state parliament. The airport originally had a budget of €2.4 billion ($3.2 billion) but is now likely to cost twice as much. Air Berlin, the carrier most affected, has sued for damages. And four people have died during construction.
The specific reason for the most recent delay, last June, had to do with the fire-safety systems, which are complex and still not ready. But Mr Faulenbach da Costa lists many other problems. There are too few check-ins and too few parking positions for aircraft. Some 100,000 residents will suffer from noise, whereas it could have been 30,000 if the location had been slightly different.
How did it get so bad? An engineering and an architecture firm have already been fired. Yet the people in overall charge are politicians. The airport’s two main shareholders are the states of Berlin and Brandenburg, followed by the federal government. So the mayor of Berlin, Klaus Wowereit, and the premier of Brandenburg, Matthias Platzeck, have the two top jobs on the supervisory board. Both belong to the centre-left Social Democratic Party. In particular, Mr Wowereit, a perennial and flamboyant cheerleader for Berlin as a world city, who made the airport one of his pet projects, has a lot to answer for.
Ralf Kunkel, the airport’s spokesman, says that the project’s troubles should be seen in the context of other public infrastructure works. In Stuttgart, a massive underground train station is behind schedule, as is a new concert hall in Hamburg. Germany’s largest container port was delayed several times before it partially opened in September. Even the country’s spy agency has had to postpone its move from the outskirts of Munich to Berlin because of building delays. In short, this sort of thing happens. Even to Germans.
This article was first seen on: https://www.economist.com/news/europe/21569065-so-much-industrious-germans-doing-things-time-eternal-building-site