Berlin Spends £11 Million a Month to Maintain This Never-Opened Airport

By Alissa Walker on at

As the EU’s self-appointed morality police, Germany publicly spanked Greece earlier this month for being so financially frivolous. Well, Germany has its own money troubles: namely, a catastrophe-riddled £3.8 billion airport that the country continues to pour money into — with no opening date in sight. Scheiße!

This week’s Businessweek engages in some A+ finger-pointing to call out this German white elephant that’s an affront to a culture known for its precision and efficiency.

Everything was going great with the design and construction of the Berlin Brandenburg Airport until some higher-ups caught wind of the Airbus A380, the fancy extra-large double-decker jetliner which requires much larger gate infrastructure. A mandate was issued to make the airport bigger, including tearing out an already finished terminal wall. Even though no airlines had committed to bringing the A380 to Berlin, the under-construction airport grew more and more ambitious, with the size—and costs—ballooning into a bureaucratic nightmare:

The architecture and engineering teams fought to keep up. As the terminal ballooned from 200,000 to 340,000 square meters (dwarfing Frankfurt’s 240,000 and just shy of Heathrow Terminal 5’s 353,000), they parceled out the work to seven contractors. That soon grew to 35, and they brought in hundreds of subcontractors, says Delius. Several engineering and electronics companies, led by the German giants Siemens and Bosch, struggled to retain control over the complex fire protection system that included 3,000 fire doors, 65,000 sprinklers, thousands of smoke detectors, a labyrinth of smoke evacuation ducts, and the equivalent of 55 miles of cables.

Each subcontractor began blaming the other for the various shortcomings:

“Our part, the detection of hot air or smoke ... is functioning,” says Thilo Resenhoeft, a Bosch spokesman. “The responsibility for the dysfunction lies with somebody else.” Siemens spokesman Oliver Santen confirms that the company was originally responsible for building the “automated fire protection facility” and “the control unit for fresh-air circulation.” Testing in 2013 “showed the need for reworking part of the system,” he says. Santen declines to attribute responsibility other than to say that Siemens is “responsible for the reconstruction of the fresh-air circulation system.”

And then, impossibly, architects and engineers are ordered to redesign the airport WHILE IT’S UNDER CONSTRUCTION:

Each addition ordered up by Schwarz required shifting passenger flows through the terminal. That meant rebuilding walls, exits, emergency lights, ventilation systems, windows, elevators, and staircases. At one point, in 2009, outside controllers urged Schwarz and his engineering chief to shut down construction for half a year to give the architects and contractors time to coordinate efforts. Schwarz, Delius says, ignored them. Just months before the scheduled June 2012 opening, the terminal was a mess. Careless workers stepped on and shattered glass being installed by other companies. Heavy equipment rolled across the terminal floor, scratching expensive tiles. Tempers flared; small contractors complained they weren’t getting paid and threatened to walk off the job.

Will this airport ever be finished? The opening has been delayed for so long that a book has been written and published about the airport’s saga. It’s obvious that no one is feeling too optimistic. Germany must spend the equivalent of £11 million every month just to keep the place from falling into disrepair, because god forbid anyone would think that anything in Germany is less than perfect. [Businessweek]

AP Photo/Markus Schreiber