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A German Construction Disaster Comes to A Close Posted by on Oct 29, 2020 in Language

Finally! After years and years of delays and billions of euros over budget, Berlin’s new airport BER will finally open this Saturday, October 31. Just so you get an idea of how big a deal this is: The airport was supposed to open in 2007. You read that right, not 2017, but 13 years ago! The project gained a reputation as a terribly managed project, where the words schlimmer geht’s nimmer (it can’t get worse) became schlimmer geht’s immer (it can always get worse). But what made it so bad, and what finally led to its opening all these years later, or rather, too late? And how does opening an airport work in times of a Pandemie (pandemic) that cripples the Luftfahrt (aviation) sector?

The BER Disaster – Delays, delays, delays…

Besucher (visitors) at the construction site of the BER in 2020 (Image by reisetopia at Unsplash.com)

It all started when Berlin was elected as Germany’s new Hauptstadt (capital) after the Wiedervereinigung (reunification) of Germany in 1990. With Berlin being the capital, it needed a Großflughafen (major airport). The gears started turning, and a plan was in the works. The location was to be right next to the existing Schönefeld (SXF) airport. After a failed privatization in 2003, the first delay ensued, making the 2007 deadline impossible. So with public funding, the Bau (construction) began in 2006, with a target date of November 2011.

But that did not happen. The project was verschoben (delayed) and verschoben and verschoben… A total of 6 more times!

In 2010, the second delay is a fact. The bankruptcy of a Planungsbüro (planning office), an extremely cold winter and new EU-Richtlinien (EU Regulations) for baggage checks that require more construction are given as reasons for the delay. But, as Bürgermeister (mayor) Wowereit presses: “Wir wollen, dass Druck im Kessel bleibt” (We want to keep “pressure in the kettle”, to keep up the pressure). The new deadline is a year later, in the summer of 2012.

But, as you know, that date was missed too. This time, the delay came only a month before the planned opening. The Brandschutzanlage (fire protection system) didn’t work as it should. With the delay coming so shortly before the opening, this delay was worse – tickets had been printed and sold, Fluggesellschaften (airlines) had planned their move into the new terminals, even invitations to the Eröffnungsfeier (opening party) of the Flughafen had been sent. The opening is moved up to March 2013.

But when 2012 comes to a close, it is more and more obvious that there are major construction problems. Several areas have Stillstand (standstill), because contractors don’t know what to do when. In 2013, then, it becomes clear that there are tens of thousands of Baumängel (construction defects). It was Chaos (chaos).

People and companies were fired, and a new Geschäftsführung (management) was needed. Hartmut Mehdorn, previously the Chef (boss) of the Deutsche Bahn (German Railway) took the reins.

He said:

Das ist kein Puppenspiel, was wir hier veranstalten. (“It’s not a puppet show that we’re staging here” (this is serious))

Ich rede nicht durch die Blume! (“I don’t talk through the flower” (not talking in a roundabout way))

A new opening date was not given until 2014. With his serious tone and no-nonsense leadership style, Mehdorn then promised first flights in 2016.

But he stepped down in 2015, complaining about bad organisation and terrible collaboration of the involved parties. Regardless, 2016 doesn’t happen, because several of the Baumängel have not been fixed. Doors won’t open, sprinklers don’t work, and required Genehmigungen (permits) were still needed. So 2018. 2018 must be the year!

But alas, 2018 was not the year. Still more unresolved issues. The new Chef Engelbert Lütke Daldrup, for the first time, did a thorough check of all the outstanding problems, and took his time to figure out when the airport could be opened. In November, 2019 then, he announced the planned Eröffnungstermin (opening date):

October 31, 2020. And so here we are. There have been no further delays, and I don’t think that between today and Saturday, there is enough time for another Verschiebung (delay). It is finally, finally opening! Yay!

All of these delays cost billions more than planned. With an initial budget of 2 billion for the 2011 opening, the costs ballooned to 6.4 billion to date. If you want to keep up with the costs as they go up, a website has been built specifically for this purpose. Those costs go to the taxpayer. Furthermore, the failings of such a large project are extremely peinlich (embarrassing). There is even a Quartett (Quartet, a card game) about all the Pannen (problems) at the airport.

So, what’s this new Flughafen?

Aerial shot of the airport in 2019 (Image by Arne Müseler at Commons.wikimedia.org under license CC BY SA 3.0 de)

The new Flughafen is replacing Tegel, which is closing in November, and it extends Schönefeld. In fact, the latter was integrated into the new BER airport last Sunday, and is now Terminal 5 of BER. Further Ausbauten (extensions) are planned in the coming years, but perhaps they should really think that through this time?

In the end, the Flughafen is built for a capacity of 46 million passengers per year divided over three terminals. Terminals 3 and 4 are planned and can bring the total capacity to 58 million passengers.

But in this worldwide pandemic, isn’t it the worst time to open a Flughafen?

Ein Fluch und Segen zugleich

Image by Gerd Altmann at Pixabay.com

As Deutschlandfunk posits, the Coronavirus is a Fluch und Segen zugleich (curse and blessing at the same time).

The Fluch is obvious. Financially, the airport is in a really bad spot. And the lack of air traffic right now due to the pandemic only make that worse. And the Eröffnungsfeier on Saturday? Not happening. Due to Corona, of course.

So what’s the Segen? Well, with so many faults and issues, having less traffic means that the Pannen will probably be kept in check. Moving from Tegel to BER will be a lot easier, too. So in a way, the airport is getting an additional Probezeit (trial period) before things really begin at this new airport.

Have you heard of this project before? What do you think of the whole situation? Let me know in the comments below!

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About the Author: Sten

Hi! I am Sten, both Dutch and German. For many years, I've written for the German and the Dutch blogs with a passion for everything related to language and culture. It's fascinating to reflect on my own culture, and in the process allow our readers to learn more about it! Besides blogging, I am a German-Dutch-English translator, animator and filmmaker.


Comments:

  1. Sjoe!:

    Nein. Deutschland ist no longer a Deutschland it used zu sein ab und zu und von Zeit zur Zeit. It has ein Bordello geworden. 😉 Too schlecht. Too schlimmer.

  2. Sjoe!:

    Hi. I commented here once. Anything wrong?

    • Sten:

      @Sjoe! Hi!

      I saw your comment landed in spam. This is probably due to the font you used. I fixed the font and published your comment now.

  3. Parul:

    Wow! This was completely new for me. The fact that I missed once a regionale Bahn because I arrived the station 30 seconds later, this is kind of dealy is overwhelming. Nevertheless, the good thing is it’s finally complete. I wish to travel soon to Berlin. Thanks for such wonderful blog in so convenient language 😃

    • Sten:

      @Parul Well, the Bahn is notorious for its Verspätungen (delays) as well…

      I am glad you enjoyed the post! 🙂