Touring BER

Touring BER

Visibility: about 10k, rain showers
Temperature: 21°C
Wind: 270°, 11 knots
QNH: 1010 hPa
Location: EDDB (BER)
Equipment: standard issue tour bus

More than two sears ago, I volunteered to test the passenger experience at the new airport. A lot about the airport has gone wrong since then. The opening has been postponed with only a few weeks notice (what a disaster!!).

At the center of the problems is the fire security system of the main terminal building. It was designed to be a market beating high tech wonder. But the very elaborate control system never quite worked right. And little by little more problems with the basic design of the entire system surfaced.

All efforts to resolve the technical problems have been rather helpless and chaotic ever since. The sparkling new gateway into the city has become a nightmare and a laughingstock.

Today I am back. After much public discussion and derisive media coverage, the PR department of the unfinished project has finally woken up. A media campaign invites people to see for themselves and this is what I’m here for today.

Expanding

The cites airports are both dated and long over the capacity they were designed for. The southern airport has a smallish and dusty main terminal with a cacophony of annexes. South of the terminal is the single runway.
This single runway is going to be the northern one of the two runways of the new airport. In between them are parking structures, highway connection, a large train station, offices and hotels as well as the troubled new terminal complex.

So in some way the new airport is an expansion of the already existing airport. But the project is vast and the new airport has nothing of the backwardness of its predecessor. If only they would get it done…

Let’s go

The tour group meets at the old terminal. We are almost 30 people and our tour guide is very knowledgable. He has been working at the airport for 20 years. We board a bus and a short trip over the highway brings us around and into the new part. We drive past a large area for a new business district. All the roads are ready but on the lots the grass grows high.

Tour guide explains the setting
Tour guide explains the setting

The bus takes the empty roads up to the main terminal building. The atmosphere is like in a SciFi movie.

Tour BER03
Empty roads
Terminal complex
Terminal complex
New Airport
New Airport

Impressive

When I first saw the terminal building more than two years ago, I was impressed and intimidated at the same time. It felt large, impressive and contemporary. The architecture is strong, the design is refined but not delicate. There is no understatement, no scandinavian lightness. This building carries a message of self esteem, it looks impressive and expensive  – a bit like a golden Rolex would.

Little has changed since my last visit. Most of the plastic covers have disappeared and some of the screens are working. The most significant change is the „flying carpet“. A metal sculpture suspended from the ceiling above the center of the main hall. It is red, delicately woven and noticeably changes the room. It breaks the seriousness and does bring lightness after all.

Terminal building with
Terminal building with „Flying Carpet“

I had mixed feelings about the building. Now the positive associations outweigh my skepticism. The building is beautiful and does have elegance.

The stream of bad news, new scandals and uncovered problems on the construction site has turned the public opinion against this prestigious and important project. Our tour guide talks openly about mistakes and short comings during the planning phase. He also points out that the problems with the complex fire alarm system are not solved yet and that he personally estimates two more years before the opening. He patiently answers our many questions.

Impressive architecture
New terminal building

After visiting the terminal, the bus takes us out onto the Tarmac. The vast, empty airport structure is both impressive and very sad.

For the end of the tour, we go down the new runway. As the bus speeds down the 4 kilometers, my seat neighbor starts calling „pull-up, pull-up!“. Everyone smiles.

To be continued…

 

Waiting for airplanes to come
Waiting for airplanes to come
New runway, still closed
New runway, still closed
Old terminal
Old terminal, replacement overdue

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