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Berlin's airport woes

Chris Cottrell
August 7, 2015

Berlin's beleaguered new airport, already a stain on Germany's reputation for precision and efficiency, has suffered another setback. A contractor that was repairing a faulty fire safety system has filed for bankruptcy.

Sanierung der Nordbahn am Berliner Flughafen BER
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/B. Settnik

Bungled construction and spiraling costs have already delayed the opening of the Berlin Brandenburg Airport four times. Now project leaders are looking at delay No. 5.

German politicians warned on Friday that the insolvency filing of Imtech Deutschland, a German subsidiary of the Dutch group Royal Imtech, could once again push back the airport's opening indefinitely.

"I believe the opening date is in great danger," the chairman of the Berlin government's inquiry into the airport's budgetary and technical problems, Martin Delius, told German public radio.

A long list of repairs

Those problems have included hundreds of repairs to be made before the first travelers can set foot inside BER's towering steel and glass terminal. Imtech Deutschland had been tasked with doing important electrical, ventilation and plumbing work.

Flughafen Berlin Brandenburg Willy Brandt
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/Revierfoto

But perhaps the biggest shortcoming at the new airport has been its faulty fire safety system, which courses through the entire building and is meant to detect fires and automatically extract smoke.

Imtech Deutschland was in the middle of overhauling that system when it filed for bankruptcy and now the airport company has said it would check whether its contractor's financial woes would have an impact on progress at the site.

Taking it in stride

The airport is already the source of much derision among nearby residents and German taxpayers, and it has been lampooned in the international press for its sloppy implementation, poor leadership and accusations of corruption that have sent costs ballooning.

It has also been the inspiration for all kinds of self-critical, airport-themed souvenirs that are sold around the German capital.

Some parody the words uttered by former East German head of state Walter Ulbricht in 1961 before the Berlin Wall was erected - "No one intends to build an airport" - while others, in the self-critical style common to Berliners, proclaim the city's seemingly limitless potential: "Berlin - we can do everything, but nothing right."