Berlin-Brandenburg Airport has finally opened its doors

South of the capital is the new Berlin-Brandenburg Airport, which opened on 31 October 2020 with a delay of more than 8 years, for a total of 16 years, and an extra cost of 4 billion euros.

The battle of Caporetto, in October 1917, was one of the worst defeats in the history of the Italian army. The famous historian Alessandro Barbero talks about it in one of his podcasts: after two and a half years of battles between Austrians and Italians on the north-western front of the country, the Austro-Hungarian Empire with "great fatigue and embarrassment" asked for the help of the German allies. Barbero describes in detail the events of the battle, and in particular the great efficiency with which the Germans – "modern, strong, rich and powerful" – plan the attack. In less than two months, the German General Staff completed the "war project" politically decided by the head of the German army, bringing 150,000 soldiers, 50,000 cannons, 30,000 horses, 2 million artillery bullets from the four corners of Europe to the Italian border... 2,400 trains and 100,000 railway wagons were needed to do this operation.

Berlin-Brandenburg Airport under construction in 2011

This anecdote tells Germany's experience, punctuality and efficiency in carrying out "mega-projects", whether warlike or infrastructural. But there is one case study that can be said to be the exception to the rule, and which has had so many inconveniences, delays and extra costs that it has become the subject of satire for many in Germany and beyond. It is the Berlin-Brandenburg Airport (BER), an infrastructure that has recently become the only airport in the capital.

When its construction began in 2005, there were even three airports in Berlin: the famous Tempelhof, which closed in 2008 and has become a public park much loved by the citizens (and which is considered a virtuous example of conversion in Europe), the Tegel airport in the north-west of the city, and the Schönefeld airport in the south-east. These two have always been considered too small and inefficient to meet the mobility needs of the German metropolitan area. Schönefeld Airport was even named the worst in the world by the eDreams web portal in 2017.

The plan of the new Berlin-Brandenburg Airport

An article on CNN's website described "The full range of architectural, structural and technical problems came to a head in 2011, as an elaborate opening organized for June 2012 loomed". The opening was then postponed to 2014 and 2016, until it was considered better not to make forecasts. On the Italian magazine Il Post we read: "Among other things, some workers were caught stealing copper and several people involved in the project were fired and condemned for corruption".

The total cost of the operation, initially estimated at 3 billion euros, reached 7.3 billion, generating the (quite right) indignation of many citizens. There are also those who have ironically created a computer game that simulates the construction of the airport to see if it takes less time to build it with a videogame.

A screenshot of the videogame BER Bausimulator Remastered

During a recent guided tour before the opening, Engelbert Lütke Daldrup, president of Berlin-Brandenburg Airport since 2017, said: "Not only Berlin, but the whole of Germany has become a laughing stock. We feel truly embarrassed".

The airport was opened on 31 October 2020 and has officially become the only active airport in Berlin, as Tagel has closed its doors and Schönefeld has been incorporated into the new project. However, it will take some time before it is fully operational due to the lack of mobility imposed by the Coronavirus pandemic. "We are ready for take-off," Daldrup said. "But I think it will take maybe three or four years to reach the pre-coronavirus traffic levels... the economic situation is dramatic".

No celebration then. This is the destiny of BER.

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