Yesterday was meant to mark the opening of Berlin Brandenberg Airport. One of Europe’s grandest construction projects, and at a price tag (so far) of 3 Billion Euro’s, Berlin Brandenberg possibly one of the more expensive construction projects currently happening on the continent. But, the airport is not open. And what was meant to be a not-so-fond farewell to the venerable Tegel Airport, is now, well, a mini-travelogue about my last two trips to the continent, both of which required me to going via Berlin’s Tegel Airport.
Tegel is a funny old airport. It is very much a child of the 1960’s and it feels like a mini LAX. But its roots lie in the Cold War, and in particular the Berlin Airlift. Located in what was then the ‘French Sector’ of West Berlin, the French government built the first part of the airport in 90 days, with the first flights landing on November 5th 1948, as part of the airlift.For the next six months until the lifting of the Soviet blockade, Tegel as well as the legendary Templehof in thr American Sector and R.A.F. Gatow in the British sector of Berlin kept the West Berliners supplied with everything.
And so for the next sixty years, Tegel became a mainstay of Berlin’s aviation reality. It was never as grandiose as Templehof, its more famous cousin in West Berlin, but it was far more useful, by having longer runways and so it was able to adapt to the jet age far more effectively. In the 1970’s, Tegel became West Berlin’s main airport, a title it has held even since reunification. Despite the larger Schonefeld Airport to the south east of the city of Berlin, the airlines that had established themselves in the Cold War decided that they wanted to stay put at Tegel.
Which was a shame, because, to be blunt, Tegel is an a**e hole of an airport. Tegel is small, poky, and very hexagonal while Schonefeld works well, albeit in a crowded fashion. And while Tegel is close to the centre of the city, it is not on a train line or on the U-Bhan. In fact, Tegel is a ride in not-too-much traffic on bus or you can fly around in a Mercedes Cab, if you have the desire.
So, to be honest, I was actually looking forward to the opening of the new Brandenberg Airport, as I was planing to use it in August when I head off to the Quest Europe Film Festival (I am a jury member for a second year in a row…). But it looks like I am to be denied that pleasure as Tegel, the great survivor, continue to serve the German Capital.
And serve it does. Tegel has 4 (or 5) fairly small terminals. Terminals A and B are the main two buildings, while Terminal C was built as a temporary structure. Five years later it is still going strong. Terminals D (and E) are in the same building, D being the departures and E being the arrivals. They are al interconnected which means if you arrive in one part of the airport, you should be able to walk to another part. But I was holed up in Terminal A for my experience of the 1960’s, and, well it was an interesting experience. The food is overpriced, and the selection is poor, but as Tegel never really gets too busy, the airport is actually quite relaxing. Also, in the modern-day jet age of ultra hyped terrorism, having individual security lanes for each gate (it is forced to do so by the hexagonal design of the airport) means that passport control and personal/baggage checks are actually pretty painless and quick.
The one thing that Tegel fails is in public transport. You can only get to Tegel by Car or Bus. I have done both, but as I drove on Easter Monday to the Airport, the lack of traffic gave me a false sense of security on just how easy it was to get there.
For those without their own transport, you can get a bus to Central Berlin, but it will be an interesting ride on the Tegel Bus (numbered TXL after the airport’s code). Exit the arrivals hall, and find the bus stop. Use the ticket machines, or if you are lucky, there is a man in a booth For those wanting just a single ticket, the ride costs €2.30 into town. Or (as Tegel is in the city limits) get a Zone A+B Travelcard. Do not forget to validate the tickets when on the bus. On the was you will ride through the bredth of Turkish Berlin, and the bus will innevitably get crowded as it also serves as a regular commuting route for the locals. In the end, the TXL bus will drop you at all the important bits in Central Berlin, allowing you to transfer onto the tube or rail network. But, as there still is another nine months or so until the New Berlin Airport opens up, this is going to be the classiest way to get into the German Capital…