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An airport can be a place of affection, where loved ones break up and families reunite. More than ever, when the pandemic hindered air travel, they were an embodiment of what the Germans called Wanderlust, which – for example, an English word – roughly means a painful longing for somewhere else, a miserable or restless wandering.
In Berlin, the city’s airports evoke incredibly different emotions, depending on which one you’re talking about. Until a decade ago, there were three, then two – and soon there would be only one. But any mention of this long-awaited international airport tends to elicit explanations and laughter from the successive technical failures that revert construction back to almost a decade, leaving money behind. construction books exceeded 4.7 million USD.
After delaying half a dozen times over a period of nine years, the airport finally opened its doors on October 31, with little fanfare to save both money and face.
Even Engelbert Lütke Daldrup, the latest in a series of airport executives, has strong feelings about the place.
“Huge delays and construction problems have made Berlin and Germany the laughing stock,” he said at a recent press conference. “As a German engineer, I’m ashamed.”
But at Tegel, another Berlin airport – built 72 years ago and will close well on 8 November – is in a gloomy mood. Although the coronavirus meant very few people flying anywhere, Berliners arrived at Terminal A simply to walk, drink an expensive beer and quietly left.
Rolf Schneider, a 66-year-old retired engineer holding a large camera, said: “I came here today to take some farewell pictures. “I’ve flown from Tegel many times since the Wall fell, and it feels like an era is coming to an end.”
As a resident of East Berlin, Schneider was unable to fly from West Berlin’s Tegel – or anywhere else – until 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell. For him, the airport represented a freedom he was denied until middle age. He says he knows all about Wanderlust.
The Tegel was built to guarantee the freedom of the West Berliners. Built in 1948 during the Soviet blockade against West Berlin, it allowed Allied aircraft to carry much-needed postwar cargo also being flown to a British air base and the Airport. The city’s Tempelhof, decommissioned in 2008 and now a park.
While it only took three months to build an operational airport at Tegel – and at the time, Europe’s longest runway – its contemporary replacement took 30 years to bear fruit. The original idea came up after reunification in 1990 and construction began 16 years later.
Hamburg-based aviation journalist Andreas Spaeth narrated the whole story from start to finish. He said he was still trying to explain why it took Berlin so long to build a new airport.
“How the hell did this happen to the Germans, to everyone, known for their accuracy?” he exclaimed.
Spaeth says the series of new airport construction problems unravel the German myth of efficiency once and for all. A roof turned out to be too heavy for the building; the escalator is too short. The light cannot be turned off once it is turned on.
Much of the airport’s décor, he said, is now out of date and even one of the gates, originally designed to serve the Airbus A380 super-large jet, is obsolete because of Air Berlin, the company was intended to operate the aircraft, went bankrupt in 2017. And at present, the A380 itself is decommissioned.
And then there is the pandemic coronavirus. Even before it opened, the airport lost several million dollars a week and faced even more debt with the airline industry in turmoil.
But Spaeth says the current shortage of passengers is partly in silver. “Berlin Airport is almost lucky the way this crisis is happening right now,” he said. “They can really calmly and quietly open the airport without immediate maximum capacity.”
Back in Tegel, the main station fills up with day trips full of nostalgia.
Mariane Dillenberger, visiting with her husband, said: “We came here today to say goodbye because over the years we have gone through a lot at this airport. “All those memories: meeting family on arrival, vacation. It was touching to be here, and also a little sad.”
Taking her husband, Rainer Dillenberger, she said: “You should talk to my husband. He’s the one who has insisted on us today. It is also moving for him, as a West Berliner.” Right, honey? “
But he politely made excuses and turned away.
“He can’t talk,” his wife explained. “It hurts. It’s teary. Oh my!”
Her husband’s tears manifest Homesick – opposite to Wander. They reflect a painful longing for home, a longing for West Berlin gone.
But a bit of the past places can still be found at the new airport. It is named after the late Prime Minister Willy Brandt, who won the Nobel Peace Prize and who worked for East and West German reconciliation – and served as the mayor of West Berlin in the mid-20th century.