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  • Konrad Werner: BER is the Vietnam of transport projects


Konrad Werner: BER is the Vietnam of transport projects

Konrad offers a metaphorical update of the BER airport scandal. Bear with him.

Image for Konrad Werner: BER is the Vietnam of transport projects
Photo courtesy of U.S. Army

The BER airport has now moved on from being a fiasco to a farce. Remember when it was just a debacle? Weep for those days, for they will not return. We were in our shorts, fishing from a stream with a piece of string tied to the end of a stick, catching fireflies in a jar, eating honey out of a pot that has a piece of cloth instead of a lid. That was in 2012, and there was all this breezy talk that it was just a matter of getting the sprinkler system to work. I remember booking an AirBerlin flight to Cologne and my e-ticket said I would be flying out of TXL and back into BER. So cute!

Now look where we are – Hartmut Mehdorn, the former Deutsche Bahn boss who was meant to be the Chuck Norris of getting major transport infrastructure projects back on track – is all bogged down. Sure, Stuttgart 21 is a bit of a mess, and there’s some bother over in Hamburg about a new opera house, but they’re all provincial amateurs compared to Berlin. Here in the nation’s capital, we can do a massive, pointless cost over-run on a new opera house in our sleep.

But BER airport is the Vietnam of publicly-funded vanity. It drags good men down and twists them into amoral, dehumanized creatures. It consumes blood and treasure to feed its toxic surreal futility. At the moment there is a corruption scandal about the system for sucking smoke out of the place, and one sacked manager wrote a 21-page letter to Klaus Wowereit calling on him to sack Mehdorn. Wowereit’s reaction was to call a crisis meeting. Crisis meetings now outnumber routine meetings, which kind of doesn’t work when you think about it.

Meanwhile, Hartmut Mehdorn is becoming Colonel Kurtz, sitting out there on his lonely airfield surrounded by a cabal of technical staff, some of whom he occasionally executes as an idle philosophical exercise. That makes Klaus Wowereit Martin Sheen, except he’s not going to strike down the mad officer. Instead he’s going to give him his full support and invite him to his annual party. So the metaphor falls down a bit there. But you get the idea.