Berlin - After nine years delay and six cancelled openings dates, it looks as if planes will actually start landing at our new airport around 2pm on Saturday, 31 October. Happy Halloween!
We thought this would be an opportune moment to look back at some of the most embarassing screw-ups in the long story of failure that is the birth of BER. Here are the top seven fails.
1. The lights couldn't be switched off. After the airport couldn't open in 2013, BER head of technology Horst Amann said: "This has to do with the fact that we are not so far with the control technology that we can control it."
2. Short escalators. Two escalators that were supposed to connect the train station and the terminal ended up being the wrong length. BER and Deutsche Bahn argued about the situation for years. Now, there are still no escalators heading down to the train platform, just up from it.
3. Smoke through the basement. BER was ridiculed because of a design that routed smoke from a fire through the cellar before being ventilated from the building. The answer: chimneys. They were added to the roof in a re-design.
4. Incorrectly numbered doors. Of the 4,000 rooms in the terminal, one in three had the wrong number on it because of changed plans – and couldn't have been found by emergency services. In 2014, the airport changed plans again and renumbered the doors to fix the problem.
5. Cable madness. As construction began on expansions (pre-corona, nobody thought BER would not be big enough to handle the expected number of passengers), cable trays became overstuffed with cables, creating a fire hazard. Power cables were laid in direct proximity to heating, air-conditioning and water pipes. Planning documents were partially missing. Hundreds of kilometres of cables had to be installed from scratch.
6. Confidential files in the trash. Files upon files of construction plans were discovered in an open dumpster on a Berlin street. In 2016, the BER project was sullied by a bribery scandal involving a manager and a supplier.
7. Burned out monitors. For years, 750 monitors ran 24/7, displaying non-existent flight information to non-existent passengers. They reached the end of their lifespan before Saturday's debut and had to be trashed and replaced.
Airport boss Engelbert Lütke Daldrup recently said that the total cost of construction amounted to about €5.96 billion – three times as high as budgeted back in 2006. Thanks to a massive drop in air travel due to the corona pandemic, the airport operator Flughafen Berlin Brandenburg GmbH will receive government support to the tune of €300 million this year, plus loans of around €550 million in 2021.
However, Berliners can look to Hamburg and feel proud. The construction of that city's Elbphilharmonie concert hall went 10 times over budget. And now everyone loves the building!
That's at least what Berlin mayor Michael Müller – apparently eager to put the whole affair behind him – put it recently, speaking to dpa newswire: "When people experience the airport as it functions, the tale of woe during the construction phase will be forgotten very quickly."
That is, of course, assuming it functions.