The man was in his forties, thin and spectacled and wearing black. At a glance, he looked like Andrien Brody in The Pianist. “I am Oliver Aust, spokesperson for the Berlin Brandenburg Airport,” he introduced himself to 15 international journalists visiting Berlin’s newest airport.
Built six years ago, it took 7,000 construction workers to complete the airport, the gateway to united Germany. Code named BER, the new airport will replace two existing airports in Berlin: Tegel which serves international flights and Schonefeld for domestic flights.
It is not clear what Tegel will become after the new Brandenburg is operational but it might be used for private flights. BER is still in the same area as Schonefeld and might even share the same runways.
The new airport of course boasts state-of-the-art sophistication. Behind the construction of BER is its role as one of many projects carried out by the German government to erase the dark remnants of communism in the country.
Located in the former East Germany, the new airport is a symbol of new hope and a remedy for old wounds for the people who were isolated from their fellow Germans west of the Berlin Wall for 40 years.
In economic terms, the new airport will become a money machine for people in the surrounding area, helping boost incomes for many former East Germans as the government continues to strive to provide the former communist state with the same advancements as in the west.
Tegel has been used since 1934 and Schonefeld since 1948 and both still function well. However they have already reached capacity, with 25 million passenger movements through Berlin every year. There is also the underlying motive of the removal of more symbols of the trauma of communism and the Cold War which separated the German people.
Aust explained that BER was designed by an East German architect residing in the United States, Helmut Jahn, who has designed many large airports including Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi. The design of the two airports is very similar.
“BER’s artistic installation is made of light steel colored red as if it is a flying red carpet above our heads. It was the work of artist Pae White of Los Angeles. It will be Germany’s most modern airport,” stated Aust.
Although the airport is not 100% completed, it has been conducting trial operations since six months ago. Thousands of volunteers have played roles as airport operators and passengers. When operational, the new airport will provide 3,000 new jobs.
“Come to Berlin next summer and we will be ready to show the world,” states Aust with a grin.
Rebuilding a city
When World War II ended, Berlin was almost flattened to the ground. The buildings which stand west of the former Berlin Wall today are at the most 60 years old, still new compared to buildings built hundreds of years ago in other European cities. Any building you may see with a 17th century design is a replica of a building destroyed during the war.
The new, united Berlin is only 23 years old, counting from the fall of the Berlin Wall in October 1989. Now, the sense of being in Berlin is that you are in a dynamic and youthful city.
Belinda Dolega-Pappe, a tour guide, is probably in her 50s, long haired but vigorous and slim. She talked to us clearly with a tone like a news presenter. She was all smiles and optimism for one of Germany’s most vibrant cities. She took us journalists for a walk from the Brandenburg Gate to Unter den Linden, the avenue which is the icon of Berlin.
“This is the heart of Germany. At left and right of the main boulevard is the diplomatic row where the foreign embassies are located. The building nearby is the Adlon Hotel where foreign dignitaries and celebrities stay and have coffee when they visit Berlin. Michael Jackson was there at one of the balconies when he introduced his daughter,” Belinda told us. As a result of war-time bombing, the historic hotel was in ruins. Fully restored, it now shines as it used to.
The Brandenburg Gate, in the eastern part of Berlin, was built in 1791. In the past it was a symbol of separation of one people into two, ideologically-opposed states. Now, after restoration in 2002, it is the symbol of a unified Germany.
Passing by the Holocaust Memorial, built by American architect Peter Eisenman, Belinda answered questions that focused on whether life was difficult under the German Democratic Republic.
“Mostly yes, she responded. “Because of politics, the German people had to suffer, especially family relationships. But not all is bad. For example education was better at that time compared to now because people had equal opportunities in getting education under communism.” Belinda herself speaks German, English, Spanish and Russian.
Belinda showed us to the location of Adolf Hitler’s eight-meter deep bunkers, now underneath an apartment building and parking lot. “Where we stand was where Adolf Hitler and his lover Eva Braun committed suicide,” Belinda said.
The most modern building in today’s Berlin is the Sony Center, symbolizing the presence of significant foreign investment in Berlin. Cafés, 3-D cinema theaters, top foreign retail brands stops and electronic stores fill the plaza, which has a see-through dome.
Approaching the site of Checkpoint Charlie, the border between the former East and West Berlin, Belinda shares with us the everlasting memory of Berlin and the changes that have occurred that maintain its interest as one of the world’s most famous cities to visit.
Visitors need have no fear of being uncomfortable in the city. Accommodation in Berlin is good. Hotel Berlin, for instance, looks at first like a standard hotel of the 1950s. At a glance it looks like a warehouse but at closer inspection it is one of the largest hotels in Berlin with 700 rooms and suites, restaurants and conference hall. It is a four-star hotel that retains a sense of the past.
The hotel has just been renovated, re-opened just months before our visit. The five-story hotel is owned by Pandox Group, a Swedish business group which has developed the hotel with the concept of artistic perfection It is designed by Sweden’s Svensk Inredning and Voglauer of Austria, suiting well Berlin’s city character.
The 15 international journalists visited Berlin under a Media Travel Grant program from International Transport Forum (ITF).