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Germany

Schönefeld prepares for take off while beleaguered Berlin airport remains grounded

June 3 marks five years since the problem-plagued Berlin Brandenburg Airport was last due to open. DW spoke to locals in the municipality of Schönefeld, home to Berlin's infamously unopened BER.

After almost 15 years in the planning process, more than a decade of construction, and half a dozen delays later, the fiasco that is Berlin Brandenburg Airport is showing no sign of departing. But development in the center of Schönefeld - the municipality in which the new BER Airport stands - is thriving, as is the optimism of locals, with or without the BER.

"Five years? I don't think it will ever open," says Katrin, a local baker at the simply named Bäckerei.

This weekend marks half a decade since Willy Brandt Brandenburg Airport was last due to open its runways to the world. In the meantime, the initial cost estimate of around 2 billion euros ($2.4 billion) has soared to nearly 6.5 billion euros.

- Read: Berlin's delayed Brandenburg Airport will not open in 2017

- Read: Berlin's unfinished airport chief steps down

- Read: At the airport, but not flying

Across the road from the current Berlin Schönefeld airport, Bäckerei has been serving up fresh bread and pastries since 1937. "Tradition is our recipe," reads the slogan below the counter.

"We don't notice that the thing hasn't opened yet. We're always busy. Locals in the morning; the office workers from across the street at lunch. Business is as good as ever," Katrin tells DW.

Flughafen BER Berlin Schönefeld Bäckerei (DW/K. Brady)

"Tradition is our recipe": Locals and office workers keep this business here alive

Already a small queue is beginning to reach the door where local resident Werner is dusting the icing sugar off his t-shirt from his cherry streusel cake.

Like many Germans, the extra 4.5 billion euros incurred by the delays is a frustrating issue for the pensioner: "At this rate, I won't be seeing any planes take off from this place. And now they're saying it's going to be too small - what a waste of money. If they were going to do it, they should have done it right."

Heading further into the center of Schönefeld - a name which translates literally as "pretty land" - the green location appears to live up to its name.

Schönefeld

Town Hall this way: The empty fields of Schönefeld will soon be filled with new housing

Located southeast of the German capital, on the border of Berlin and Brandenburg, the municipality seems to be one huge, open plane, occupied in the very middle only by a rather lonely looking town hall, which - according to the lack of other road signs - seems so far to be the only point of interest in town.

"The delays at the new airport aren't affecting development in Schönefeld," says construction worker Mr. Ramadan, who declined to give his first name. "What can it affect? There's nothing here yet."

But all that's about to change. In the center of Schönefeld a huge construction project is underway for a new shopping complex dubbed City Center Schönefeld.

Closing the gap between the already existing primary school and swimming pool, the 3,800 square meter commercial space will house a bank, supermarket, 155 hotel rooms and 45 apartments - all of which is due to be complete by 2018.

Schönefeld construction worker

Construction worker Mr. Ramadan is part of a team providing heating to the future mall

Around the bend of Hans-Grade-Allee, more cranes loom over the fields, an indicator of the thousands of apartments and office spaces that are being built on the unused land.

Alexander Gallrein, spokesperson for the economic development of the state of Brandenburg, estimates that some 40,000 new jobs will be created in the area surrounding the long-overdue airport. And with jobs, comes the need for homes.

Somewhat fitting to this flat-pack town center, Swedish home-builder Bonava is constructing 1,000 apartments alone there. Nine of the apartment blocks holding 218 flats have already been sold to real estate firm Industria Wohnen, the company told DW.

But as with all urban developments, as the demand increases, so could the price to live there. Sabine, out walking her dog, recently moved to Schönefeld after searching for a smaller apartment, but fears that the opening of the new airport will hike the price of her rent.

"It's much more affordable out here," she says. "But that might not last for long."

Schönefeld

New in town: Sabine and Barney are making the most of the cheaper cost of living while it lasts

"I'm looking forward to the new shopping center. We just don't have those amenities right now. Obviously it would be even more successful if the new airport was there too. But it's going ahead, with or without it."

Meanwhile, Barney the schnauzer-cross is preoccupied with sniffing out the field mice in the overgrown grass.

"He won't be able to do that for much longer!" Sabine says. "Not once all these buildings are finished."

For local resident Boris, Schönefeld's location is key in the growth of the municipality.

"It's ideal here. In 30 minutes, I can be in the northern-most district of Berlin and when I need to get away, the airport is here on my doorstep."

Berlin Schönefeld Check-In

At Berlin Schönefeld Airport, queue dividers from BER are already in use

Less than 1.5 kilometers (0.9 miles) away at the entrance to the current Berlin Schönefeld Airport, which is due to be replaced by Berlin Brandenburg, flags bearing the huge BER logo are already hung from the poles. Even in the terminal buildings, queue dividers from the unopened airport keep passengers in line as they wait to check in.

But at this rate, the BER paraphernalia is more likely to become memorabilia before it's ever put to use in its intended location. Time to hit the runway BER, Schönefeld is about to take off without you.

Brandenburg Airport

Five years since it was last due to open, Berlin Brandenburg Airport remains closed

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