Save Berlin: TXL RIP

Even though the new BER airport has had a difficult gestation period, (the new date is March 17, 2013), our beloved Tegel Airport is still slated for execution in the future. Here are a few things we'll miss about TXL.

Image for Save Berlin: TXL RIP
Photo by Astrid Warberg

You have to feel sorry for our new Berlin Brandenburg Airport (BER). After a tortured birth – 20 years of delays, cost overruns, protests and court fights – the shiny new behemoth will enter the world an unloved bastard child. It doesn’t help that its older siblings are viewed through a golden haze of nostalgia. Tempelhof Airport was Hitler’s Nazi monument that earned its angel’s wings by serving during the Berlin Airlift. The appeal of the soon-to-retire Tegel Airport is more quirky and complex. Here are 10 things we’ll miss about Everyone’s Favourite Airport:

1. Verdant splendour

What better gateway to green Berlin than an airport carved out of a forest? Jungfernheide Park started out as a royal hunting ground. Its isolated location proved ideal for the Kaiser’s zeppelin base, then rocket scientist Werner von Braun’s testing range. Tegel graduated to full-fledged airport during the 1948 Berlin Airlift when the French army built a 2400m-long landing strip in 90 days.

2. Close to home

BER will have its own S-Bahn station, but Tegel’s so close (8km from Berlin’s centre) that even Hartz IV deadbeats can afford to arrive home in style – by taxi.

3. Hexagons!

In 1965, Meinhard von Gerkan won a design competition for the new Tegel Airport with a simple scheme – a six-sided building with an entry courtyard in the centre and aeroplane gates on the outside. He carried the geometric theme right through to the paving tiles.

4. Shortcut airport

Von Gerkan’s design meant passengers could drive directly to their gate – just a few short steps to the ticket counter, then a few more to the waiting area. No long lines or mob scenes.

5. Safety

By the time Tegel opened in 1974, terrorism in the form of plane hijackings had made the airport’s people-friendly design obsolete. Every gate had to be retrofitted with its own inefficient and costly screening system. Still, in its 38 years of operation, the airport hasn’t had a single fatal crash.

6. Time machine

Angled concrete façades, cubist stairs and 1970s colour scheme brand Tegel as a relic of that giddy era when plane travel was still an exotic thrill.

7. Big Brother lite

There’s nothing worse than arriving in a strange land and coming face to face with a glowering passport checker playing sadistic head games. Tegel’s tight spaces force over-zealous civil servants to cut the crap and stamp your passport.

8. Justin Bieber

Tegel’s tight spaces are also a paparazzi paradise – celebrities have no place to hide. Actors, pop stars and heads of state mingle with the masses in the airport’s intimately egalitarian hallways.

9. No logos

The new BER airport has been described as a 70-acre shopping mall with a few airplanes attached. Other than some tiny shops shoehorned into its obtuse corners, Tegel is an oasis of commercial calm.

10. The other hexagon

Architect Von Gerkan’s original design showed a second ring of gates, doubling Tegel’s capacity. Too late now… or is it? Von Gerkan has drawn up a scheme to turn his vacated masterpiece into an eco-friendly city of the future, dubbed TXL+. Completing his geometric composition: a hexagonal solar farm. BER’s endless construction delays (March 17, 2013 is the opening date at the time of writing) mean we have a few more months to enjoy Tegel’s charms, but its demise is inevitable. Built for 7 million passengers a year, the relatively tiny Tegel handled almost twice that many last year. The new BER – also designed by Gerkan’s firm GMP – can handle 27 million. Tegel’s people-scaled design took the pain out of air travel. For legions of travellers, BER’s maze-like purgatory of perfume boutiques and body scanners spells no more novocaine.