It’s finally happening. Almost 8 years late, Berlin Brandenburg Airport is at last opening this coming Saturday (31 October), and that means Tegel Airport will finally close by 8 November.
That has prompted another round of outpourings of emotion about the old Tegel. So einen Flughafen wie Berlin-Tegel wird es nie mehr geben (There will never be an airport like Tegel again) swoons the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, bemoaning what is about to be lost.
In one regard NZZ is correct – there will never again be an airport like Tegel, but as far as I am concerned that is actively a good thing. It was designed for times past, it made sense in the era of a divided Berlin and in the era of the car, but now it makes no sense at all. Historic it might be, but in history it belongs – so I am very happy about its closure.
Much of the Tegel fandom revolves around Terminal A (Google Satellite here), a hexagon of concrete that allows a passenger to walk across an air bridge, through a small gate area, across a corridor and straight into a waiting car. There is no airport building like it anywhere else. But it has just 14 gates, and has been pretty much uniquely been served by premium airlines. The nature of the hexagon – not at all simple to expand, or to adjust for larger-wingspan planes – meant that the additional terminals C (a metal shed) and D (a metal corridor) feel like uneasy adjuncts, lacking any charm whatsoever. The whole ensemble is not befitting an airport for a capital city.
But back to the car.
The main defenders of Tegel are the vocal inhabitants of inner city Berlin neighbourhoods south and south east of the airport – Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf and Mitte predominantly – who enjoy the convenience of being able to drive to the airport or, more likely, to be driven there in a taxi. Any regular person has had to make do with a bus – because Tegel has no rail connection. Getting to Tegel from neighbourhoods in southern or eastern Berlin by public transport has never been an especially pleasant experience, even though the airport is comparatively central.
And that leads us to the most significant reason it needs to close: the aircraft noise from the Tegel blights the lives of 400000 Berliners, but blights to a large extent the lives of the very people who themselves do not profit from it – because the neighbourhoods under the flight path – Spandau, Wedding, Reinickendorf, Pankow, Heinersdorf – are not the richest. Or to put it bluntly: the very people who appreciate Tegel as travellers are exactly the ones who do not suffer the downsides of it as residents.
The plans for what will happen to the site are well known – Berliner Morgenpost has a summary here – and importantly for the fans of Terminal A, that will be preserved as a centre piece of the new living quarter planned for the airport site.
Yes, the new airport arrangement is not without its problems. The old Schönefeld terminal – even worse as an airport experience than Tegel – will remain open as Terminal 5 of Berlin Brandenburg. But that Schönefeld is worse does not constitute an adequate case for keeping Tegel open. Plus having toured the new terminal in 2015 (blogged here), it’s actually a pretty pleasant if slightly bland airport, and – in comparison to a colossus like Frankfurt (Main) the walking distances are manageable, and the railway platforms are directly below the main terminal. Those rail connections to the airport are pretty good (all the details here), they are not as good as they could be – as the U7 metro line has not been extended to the new airport, and until the Dresdener Bahn is rebuilt within Berlin the oddly named FEX airport express train takes a strange route via Gesundbrunnen to Berlin Hbf – but even then most Berliners will have a reasonable travel time to the airport by regional train or S-Bahn, and Dresden will even get a direct connection by train to the new airport too.
So, finally, good riddance Tegel!