The impossible now seems to be happening: the new Berlin airport is opening


Nine years ago, the new airport in Berlin should have opened its doors. Finally it seems to be happening now. How a headache airport still became a champion.

In a month, on October 31st, it will be St. Juttemis. On the day nobody thought would ever arrive, two planes will land at Berlin-Brandenburg Willy Brandt Airport, BER for short. The airport, which was built as a metropolis-worthy calling card for Berlin, was originally due to be put into use in 2011, were it not for that long list of flaws, one even more absurd than the other: dripping sprinkler systems and escalators that are too short.

In nine years, the inauguration of BER was pushed back five times and most Germans became convinced that they would have to wait at their airport until St.Juttemis, which is delivered to our neighbors. Saint never hot. The BER airport, the CEO of Lufthansa scoffed two years ago, will one day be the first airport to be demolished unused.

But he had not counted with Engelbert Lütke Daldrup, an official who knew how to make the impossible possible – probably, because before there is actually flying, nobody really believes it in Germany.

‘The monster’

The 63-year-old engineer has been in charge of the airport since March 2017, which he called ‘the monster’ when he took office, a monster that has swallowed 6 billion euros more than budgeted in recent years, 35 million of which for maintaining the facilities. that had already been delivered. For example, trains had to run through the empty underground station to keep the aeration intact and taps were turned on and toilets flushed at set times.

But the Lütke Daldrup, whose reddish flower pot haircut and large, falling safety vest irrevocably reminiscent of a Playmobil man, gives the impression that he has tamed the monster. He greets the busload of journalists who have been delivered to the door of Terminal 2 with a confident sounding ‘nothing that people can influence is standing in the way anymore’, before leading through sliding doors that do what sliding doors are supposed to do, which is to open and close automatically. Close. For a long time that was also not a foregone conclusion at BER Airport.

It is noticeable that Lütke Daldrup has a routine in showing around. He captioned the sights rattling, including pre-baked jokes. “Look, we’ve organized it at the baggage check so that several passengers can slide their suitcase onto the belt at the same time, so you don’t have to wait for the person who has to search for their liquids for ten minutes.”

Lütke Daldrup, director of the airport, greets the press on a guided tour. “Nothing that can influence people is standing in the way of an opening.”Image Daniel Rosenthal

Empty and very big

It is a curious sensation, because apart from its dramatic history, BER is just an airport, as everyone knows it, but empty and very large, which is of course good in times of corona, as Lütke Daldrup emphasizes. “We have four times as much space here in Terminal 1 alone as at Tegel Airport,” he says, referring to the old West Berlin airport that will soon close to the grief of many nostalgic Berliners.

BER’s disastrous construction site has been food for hundreds of newspaper pages, days of television and three political investigative committees in recent years. But it is still difficult to give an unambiguous answer to the question of what went wrong. There appears to be a combination of misjudgments, bad luck and poor leadership; For example, several construction companies went bankrupt and the airport devoured three predecessors of Lütke Daldrup with skin and hair.

Yet there is an overarching element that links the Berlin airport with other architectural failures in Germany: an excess of perfectionism. Just like the Elbfilharmonie, the concert hall in Hamburg opened in 2016, the airport had to become champion in all respects. It had to be as functional as it was aesthetic and as symbolic as it was logistically perfect.

And like the other buildings mentioned, the German government generously pulled its wallet, perhaps too generously, as Andreas Otto of the Berlin Greens said in presenting the findings of one of the investigative committees: “It is the fault of the money. There was not too little, but too much. ‘

And that is precisely why Engelbert Lütke Daldrup is so proud of Terminal Two – the terminal that was not planned until later because the unopened airport had become too small by pre-corona standards. It was created in two years, minimalist, practical and relatively cheap. It was done right on time.


When a few German journalists grumble during the tour that this ‘machine hall’ is not a worthy calling card for their capital, the airport boss turns East Indies deaf. Instead, he explains what is so practical about a terminal with an ‘industrial look’. This way, all technology is easily accessible and easy to replace. In good German-English: ‘State of that art.’

Lütke Daldrup, about whom it is written in Germany that he has a political killer instinct and Prussian discipline, does not want to answer questions during the tour. But during the luxurious sandwich buffet, between the baggage belts, he can no longer avoid them.

Director Daldrup: “If there is a vaccine, people want to discover new places and aviation will overcome this crisis.”Image Daniel Rosenthal

How does he actually feel about opening an airport at the worst imaginable moment in recent European history, in the midst of the greatest aviation crisis since 1945, caused by a virus that no one knows about when it can be controlled by human intervention?

Lütke Daldrup says, with the accompanying worrying frown, that the Berlin airport company is currently losing more than a million euros per day due to the corona virus. But then he brushes off rumors of impending bankruptcy with what looks like a smile.

Short flights

And the appeal to use this crisis to fly less anyway, because of the climate? Lütke-Daldrup also thinks flying from Berlin to Nürnberg is out of date, he says. But he doesn’t want to ‘lecture people’ about short flights to destinations elsewhere in Europe. ‘If there is a vaccine, people want to discover new places and aviation will overcome this crisis.’

The airport boss saves the bad news for the very last moment. His pride, Terminal 2, remains closed for the time being due to corona. “A decision we made with a heavy heart.” The little man in the large empty hall looks distressed, like a birthday boy without partygoers. But he picks up: “I assume that it can still be opened festively next spring.”

If planes actually take off from the site that was previously considered a damned construction site in a month’s time, Berliners are guaranteed to believe Engelbert Lütke Daldrup.

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