BERLIN – The Berlin Airport Group opened Berlin Brandenburg Airport’s (BER) Terminal 1 on October 31. Airways had the chance to be there to cover the historic event.

A Lufthansa (LH) and an easyJet (U2) A320neo aircraft inaugurated the new airport. The German flag carrier made a special sticker to celebrate the occasion.

Opening Berlin’s Brandenburg Airport was a two-week-long program. It started off with renaming Schönefeld Airport (SXF) to BER T5 on October 25th. On the same day, they opened the airport’s train station.

The airport is named after Willy Brandt, previous Chancellor of Germany. A wall is dedicated to Mr. Brandt.

BER Opening in Phases

After smaller events, such as the inauguration of the Willy Brandt Wall, we come to the opening event. Most people consider this as the grand opening of BER.

The opening process will continue with airlines moving from Tegel Airport (TXL) to BER. Airways will be present today for the first flights out of BER. TXL will close on November 8. As per BER, even though Terminal 2 is ready, due to COVID-19, it will not open until Spring next year.

Passengers can reach the airport by train every fifteen minutes from Berlin’s city center. The ride takes about thirty minutes. From the train station, passengers only have to walk a few minutes.

Berlin’s Airports

Due to the diverse history of Berlin, the city had plenty of airports. The first airfield, Johannisthal opened in 1909 and was one of the first airfields in the World. However, the Reich wanted a bigger airport and therefore built Tempelhof (THF) in the city center.

Tempelhof was a unique airport that featured a roof over the apron. The Reich also built an airfield in Schönefeld to supply the Henschel aircraft factory, but the airport was not used commercially.

After World War II, the four powers divided Berlin into two parts: West and East. As the Soviets destroyed Schönefeld, they used Johannisthal for commercial flights. The Western powers meanwhile used THF, which had a short runway.

The Quadripartite Agreement on Berlin

Due to the Berlin Blockade, Westerners needed a bigger runway and therefore built a new airport. They completed Europe’s longest runway at the time in only three months. Simultaneously with THF, West Berliners used TXL for commercial flights.

On the Eastern side, the Soviets reconstructed Schönefeld (SXF) and switched to there from Johannisthal. The September 3, 1971, Four Power Agreement on Berlin, also known as the Berlin Agreement or the Quadripartite Agreement on Berlin, banned airlines from Berlin which were not from the winning powers of WWII.

However, SXF is not inside the Berlin area; it belongs to Brandenburg. Therefore, East-German airline Interflug could operate (and therefore have a hub) there. As such, SXF functioned as the airport for East Berlin.

German unification, Berlin Brandenburg Airport

In 1989, the Berlin Wall was demolished, and later on, Germany was reunified. At that moment, three airports served 3.5 million people. All three airports were old and congested, and there was limited space to expand. This led to the creation of BBF (later FBB), the company which planned BER.

After years of proposals and debates, the Brandenburg State Ministry granted approval for the new airport. Lawsuits and financial issues slowed down the project, though. The airport planned to open in 2011, but it was delayed.

BER Opening is Tested

Later on, the airport failed a crucial fire and alarm test, which led to the entire redesigning. Further financial and legal difficulties slowed down the project. The German Railways (DB) also sued the airport, as they had to operate a ghost station since 2011.

The years of difficulties and uncertainty led to the final opening date of October 31, 2020. The airport did not plan to postpone this time, no matter its fears that COVID could cause just that. Indeed, it almost did, as German COVID laws banned big events. However, yesterday’s opening ceremony went without issue and BER opened in time.

All photos: Miklós Budai / Airways Magazine