These are the most embarrassing breakdowns at Berlin’s major airport

Capital airport BER

Scaffolding in a building at the capital’s airport in Schönefeld (Brandenburg).


(Photo: dpa)

Berlin It is almost a miracle that the new Berlin Airport BER should actually go online on October 31st. “We have prepared very carefully for the commissioning,” said the head of the FBB airport company, Engelbert Lütke Daldrup, on Monday.

The main objective of the trial run had been achieved. “We have turned the completed building into a functioning airport.” This means that BER can be opened “with a clear conscience”.

The opening, originally planned in 2012, had been delayed again and again: Thousands of construction defects, non-functional fire protection, underwater cable ducts and an insolvent planning office ensured this.

There are plausible reasons why a prestige project like BER could get out of hand. Not only did they “build happily”, planning changes and extensions were also “completely unprofessional and unsystematic”, said Klaus-Heiner Röhl, an expert on structural policy and medium-sized businesses at the Institute of German Economics (IW), the Handelsblatt.

The resulting errors have made BER something like the modern version of Schilda town hall. The people from the shield had built it nicely, but forgot the windows.

Here is a selection of particularly embarrassing BER breakdowns:

High energy costs for an empty airport

The airport surprised with high costs in 2013. The BER airport, which was not opened, devoured a double-digit million amount every month. The money had to be used for cleaning, guarding, servicing, maintenance and, above all, energy. The electricity costs for illuminating the construction site alone are higher than for the operation in Tegel, it was said at the time. The deserted high-tech terminal is illuminated around the clock. Information from the chief technology officer at the time that the light could not be switched off because the controls did not work, the airport company immediately rejected.

Capital airport BER

In 2006, the groundbreaking for BER took place with the then airport boss Rainer Schwarz, ex-Bahn boss Hartmut Mehdorn and the ex-government leaders Klaus Wowereit (SPD, Berlin) and Matthias Platzeck (SPD, Brandenburg).


(Photo: dpa)

Escalators too short

The escalators from the underground train station up to Willy-Brandt-Platz in front of the main terminal were too short: three to four steps had to be bricked up. How did the breakdown come about? The escalator was already ordered when the planning was still going on.

Smoke vent through the basement

Fire protection systems are usually designed in such a way that smoke that arises in the event of a fire is discharged through the roof. Not so with BER. For aesthetic reasons, the architects reversed the principle. The smoke should be sucked down, into the basement, so to speak. This should be made possible by a complex fire protection system with many flaps and controls. Unfortunately, that didn’t work as expected. The problem was finally solved by means of exhaust chimneys in the roof.

Obsolete components

A “German specialty” also bothered BER. The safety and fire protection requirements have been continuously tightened, said IW expert Röhl. “Even facilities and components that could have gone into operation in 2012 often no longer meet today’s requirements and have to be replaced, revised or checked.” For example, metal dowels on support systems for cables, among other things, for fire protection and safety power supply in the main terminal did not correspond more of the norm. The airport had to apply for approval retrospectively.

Airport BER

View of the apron.

(Photo: Marc-Steffen Unger for Handelsblatt)

Incorrectly numbered doors

Almost every third of the 4,000 rooms in the airport was numbered incorrectly because rescheduling was carried out without anyone keeping track of things. This can have serious consequences because doors and ventilation flaps follow the room numbers. Emergency services also need reliable numbers. In 2014 the airport company tackled the problem.

Tangled cables in the terminal

With the terminal expansions, the various companies laid more and more lines on the cable routes – until they were overcrowded, which is risky due to the build-up of heat. Cables also run through ducts with main lines for heating, cooling and water; plans are sometimes missing. More than 90 kilometers of cable had to be redrawn.

Confidential documents in the trash

In 2014, folder-wise construction plans lay in a waste container on the street in Berlin. The documents are said to have been planning and control reports from a community of architects involved in the construction of the airport. Accordingly, they contained detailed information on elevators and high-voltage systems, as well as floor plans of the passenger terminal.

Airport BER

The main hall in Terminal 1 is surmounted by a red metal “magic carpet”.

(Photo: Marc-Steffen Unger for Handelsblatt)

In use too early: Hundreds of monitors are defective

750 monitors for passenger information had to be replaced in 2018 because they ran with the general power supply in the building for six years. Most of them had reached the end of their lifespan, said an airport spokesman at the time. The monitors were installed in 2012 before the planned opening.

Ghost trains ensure ventilation

Unlike the airport, the underground train station was ready on time for the planned opening in June 2012. Since then, an S-Bahn has been driving in and out of the tunnel of the ghost train station without passengers in order to ventilate the unused tunnel. Otherwise mold could have formed there.

More: Four billion euros more, nine years too late: The most important facts about the start of BER.

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