From its shiny and imposing exterior, any onlooker would be forgiven for thinking Brandenberg airport could be the equivalent to London’s Heathrow.
But step inside to the check-in desk of the main terminal building and you’re met with an eery silence.
Berlin’s supposed air travel hub was meant to be completed to great fanfare in 2012, some 21 years after it was initially planned as an ambitious project to unite the East and West of the city following the fall of the Iron Curtain.
But global infrastructure experts are now calling it a ‘national trauma’ and a model example of ‘how not to do things’.
Berlin Brandenberg airport – which is set to cost €6bn (£5.3bn) – is currently sitting empty, eight years after work was set to be completed. Several design setbacks led to some 550,000 faults across the site which have prevented the air travel hub from opening
Pristine check in desks and lifts remain unused. The flight departure boards are on, but display journeys going from other airports. At the chic airport hotel a small team turns on taps and hoover away the dust to avoid the building falling into disrepair.
Beneath the terminal lies a totally functioning train station, but there is only one ‘ghost train’ per day on the schedule, used to circulate air rather than pick up non-existent passengers.
But now the partly state-run company behind the airport has promised Brandenberg (BER) will open its doors to passengers next year.
Beneath the terminal lies a totally functioning train station, but there is only one ‘ghost train’ per day on the schedule, used to circulate air rather than pick up non-existent passengers
The airport lies to the south east of Germany’s capital next to Schoenefeld airport which hosts most of the budget airline traffic coming into the city
So what went so wrong to cause a near decade-long delay?
When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, one of the first priorities for unifying the two halves of a divided Germany was refreshing the infrastructure that was so lacking in the East.
The need for an airport was even mentioned by former US President Ronald Reagan in his famed ‘Tear down this wall’ speech in Berlin two decades before ground was broken.
‘To open Berlin still further to all Europe, East and West, let us expand the vital air access to this city, finding ways of making commercial air service to Berlin more convenient, more comfortable, and more economical,’ Reagan said.
‘We look to the day when West Berlin can become one of the chief aviation hubs in all central Europe.’
A departure lounge inside the huge terminal lies empty with the lights turned off. At the chic airport hotel a small team turns on taps and hoover away the dust to avoid the building falling into disrepair
Having agreed that existing airports Tempelhof, Tegel and Schoenefeld needed replacing, the German government set up the management company Berlin Brandenburg Flughafen Holding, to oversee the construction of a new air hub.
Beginning in 2006, building work was hampered by the 2008 financial crisis and eventually had to begin using public money.
But it wasn’t a lack of funds that would ultimately drag the project to a halt.
‘The supervisory board was full of politicians who had no idea how to supervise the project,’ Prof Genia Kostka, of Berlin’s Free University told the BBC.
When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, one of the first priorities for unifying the two halves of a divided Germany was refreshing the infrastructure that was so lacking in the East. Pictured: New check-ins desks wrapped in covers that have never been removed
‘They were in charge of key decisions.’
It is reported that attempts to save money led those in charge to hand out dozens of contracts to smaller companies for different elements, and pressurise them to work for less.
‘They built a very complex controlling system which didn’t work,’ said former Berlin politician Martin Delius.
One of the strangest revelations about the project was that the airport’s size was doubled during its contruction, revealed in the German Radio Spaetkauf podcast ‘How To F*** Up An Airport’.
Originally planned without almost any shops due to an architect’s dislike of shopping, company bosses had to make a huge change to plans to add in floor of restaurants and retailers.
Bosses at the airport plan to have it open by October 2020, but first there are some 550,000 faults to fix across the site that were identified after a cancelled 2012 grand opening ceremony
Eventually, with the sheer number of contractors and builders involved in the plans, designers lost control of what had been done, or even where it was.
Despite the problems bosses arranged for a grand opening in 2012, with Chancellor Angela Merkel set to attend.
But when the local official responsible for certifying the building’s fire safety made his inspection, the celebrations were quickly called to a halt.
The system of security detectors and alarmed fire doors weren’t working because the company had been working with makeshift systems, which included employees sitting by doors to raise any alarm.
The system of security detectors and alarmed fire doors weren’t working because the company had been working with makeshift systems, which included employees sitting by doors to raise any alarm
Embarrassed by the revelations, bosses asked to see a list of all the found faults from across the site.
They were given a figure of 550,000; missing or incorrect cabling, poor security systems, the list was endless.
But having already plowed hundreds of millions into the project, the buildings could not be deserted or destroyed.
‘There’s a point of no return,’ said Martin Delius, ‘It’s public money. If you spend it, you need to get something out of it.’
The overall cost of the project will be €6bn (£5.3bn) – up from an original projection of about €2bn at an earlier point in the project which did not consider the vast number of faults
The management company are now working intensely to ensure an opening in October 2020.
The overall cost of the project will be €6bn (£5.3bn) – up from an original projection of about €2bn at an earlier point in the project which did not consider the vast number of faults.
Much of this final sum will be paid by German taxpayers, as the federal government owns a 26 per cent stake in the project.
At eight years late and a projected €4billion over budget, it is hoped that meeting the new deadline in 16 months will help restore some dignity.