Berlin airport set to open after eight years of calamitous delays

Berlin-Brandenburg gets permission for Halloween opening 14 years after construction began

Just 14 years after construction began, and a mere eight years after its original opening date, Berlin’s haunted international airport has been given permission to open next Halloween.

All the new airport needs now is passengers. Covid-19 restrictions mean just 1,000 passengers a day are flying from the two airports that Berlin-Brandenburg International (BER) is set to replace.

“It was overdue that we can open BER but it is naturally great news,” said Berlin mayor Michael Müller.

Even when the capital reopens for business, the new airport will remain one of the most expensive white elephants in modern German history – it will be loss-making for the foreseeable future. BER’s delays and debts have shattered any lingering illusions about German efficiency, particularly involving public infrastructure.


After the eight-year airport delay made them a national national laughing stock, Berliners hope to claw back some shreds of dignity on October 31st.

The curse of BER began when the ex-mayor of Berlin Klaus Wowereit, in an expensive flash of hubris, tore up the contract with a leading building company, insisting the state could build an airport faster and cheaper. Since then, six opening dates for his airport have come and gone and the total cost, forecast a decade ago at €2.8 billion, is now creeping towards €6 billion.

The original architect resigned, complaining that a stream of new demands from politicians required extensive and expensive replanning. Airport construction staff came and went; the planning company went bankrupt; a corruption whistleblower was poisoned; and, weeks before its opening in 2012, BER was refused a fire certificate.

The airport ventilation system, to extract smoke from the terminal, had neither been built to plan nor was it fit for purpose. Like an airline disaster movie, one crisis followed another.

When engineers looked behind the solid structure, they realised they would have to rip out and replace most of the wiring to solve thousands of technical problems: automatic doors that wouldn’t open, sprinklers that didn’t sprinkle, and lights that no one knew how to switch off.

For each of the nearly 3,000 days since the original opening date in 2012, the shuttered airport has cost €1.3 million in upkeep. Outdated equipment in the empty airport has had to be replaced already; Germany’s rail company runs an empty train nightly through the unused underground station to stop mould.

After this week’s  final safety certificates, a final lap looms for BER in the coming weeks: test operations with extras playing luggage-lugging passengers.

Not everyone is looking forward to flying from the new airport, twice as far out as the existing Tegel terminal, loved by locals for its short distances from street to gate.

A court order states that Tegel must close six months after BER opens, though Berliners and airlines including Ryanair have demanded it stay open.

On Wednesday mayor Michael Müller said that, with Berlin air traffic down by 90 per cent in the pandemic, he would like to close Tegel now – for good.

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin