Saturday, 29 March 2014

First Time in Berlin - Arrival

Touching down the other week at Berlin’s Schönefeld Airport was not at all what I anticipated, and was certainly not what I expected of the capital of the richest and most economically powerful country in Europe. Walking across the tarmac and into the tin-roofed immigration and Passport Control building reminded me of arriving in some tin-pot third world capital, and only served to reinforce my sense of bewilderment. Granted I had flown in using a budget airline, but then I have been to several other European capitals using the same carrier without this strange sense of something not being quite right.

It wasn’t meant to be like this, and if things had gone to plan my arrival would have been quite different. A few words of explanation, coupled with some history might go some way to explain this conundrum as to why. Until quite recently the German capital was served by three separate airports; Templehof, the original pre-war airport, and the closest to the city centre, was deemed too small to handle today’s large jet airliners and has now closed. This leaves Tegel and Schönefeld, both of which are post World War II creations. Tegel was hurriedly constructed in late 1949 during the Berlin airlift, to enable essential supplies of food and fuel to be flown in by the Western Allies, in response to the blockade imposed on the city by the Soviet Union. Schönefeld on the other hand, was built by the Soviets as the airport serving the eastern half of the divided city, and for decades after was the principal airport for East Berlin. It shows; the place still has that East European, former Soviet-bloc feel to it.

And yet across from  Schönefeld, and clearly visible from the runway, stands the brand new glistening terminal buildings of Berlin Brandenburg Airport; the state of the art, ultra-modern replacement for all three of he capital’s existing airports. Originally scheduled to open in 2010, Brandenburg was just weeks from its revised opening date of June 2012, when major flaws were discovered in the airports’ safety and communication systems, and was refused a Fire Safety Certificate by the local authority. Plans to move operations by all the airlines using the current airports were hurriedly put on hold, as it soon became apparent the commissioning and hand-over of Brandenburg could not go ahead, and nearly two years on there is still no date given for its opening.

Well an inauspicious arrival was made up for by a most enjoyable stay in a good hotel, situated in the pleasant Charlottenburg area of West Berlin, and by wall-to-wall sunshine coupled with unseasonably high temperatures for early March ; weather that was destined to last all week. In the next post I will be writing about the very pleasant time my son and I had in the German capital, and will be listing reasons as to why you should visit there as well.