Germany’s New Berlin Brandenburg Airport Opens
By Monique Burns
With the opening of the new Berlin Brandenburg “Willy Brandt” Airport, the German capital adds yet another stylish leaf to its portfolio. In design–forward Berlin, with cutting–edge galleries, hip fashion boutiques and chic shops, the new airport showcases a sleek Bauhaus aesthetic of glass and steel accented by warm woods, stunning works by contemporary artists like Los Angeles’ Pae White, and fashionable adjuncts like the four–star Steigenberger Airport Hotel.
Named after Willy Brandt, Berlin’s charismatic former Mayor and West German Chancellor, the new airport offers poignant nods to Berlin’s historicity, a past that includes fascinating, if notorious, chapters as headquarters of Hitler’s Third Reich, launchpad for the Holocaust and one–time site of the Berlin Wall. Seamlessly fusing old and new, the airport embodies Berlin’s timeless 21st–century dynamism.
But the Berlin Brandenburg Airport isn’t just another pretty face. The 6 billion-euro airport—known by IATA code “BER”—has plenty of good solid German engineering and practicality built-in. That’s no surprise considering its designers, the illustrious Hamburg firm of Gerkan, Marg and Partners.
With more than 50 years’ experience, gmp Architekten has worked on nearly 500 projects in over 23 countries, from cultural institutions like Dresden’s Kulturpalast and Beijing’s National Museum of China to sporting arenas like the Estádio Nacional de Brasilia and the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban, South Africa.
In Germany, there have been major transportation projects, too, including Berlin Hauptbahnhof, the capital’s central train station, and international airports in Hamburg and Stuttgart. In the 1960s, one of the firm’s earliest projects was Berlin’s award–winning Tegel Airport with its trendsetting hexagonal terminal.
Southeast of the city center, the new Berlin Brandenburg Airport consolidates the functions and traffic of three Berlin airports—Schönefeld, Tegel and the new facility—under one roof. A practical measure, it reflects the ongoing aim of uniting the country’s east and west under German Reunification, marking its 30th year in 2020.
The new Berlin Brandenburg Airport opens in phases. Terminal 1—the largest—opens on October 31, 2020 with ceremonial flights by Lufthansa, the German flagship carrier, and easyJet, the popular low–cost British carrier. That’s six days after Schönefeld Airport, just north of Berlin Brandenburg Airport, transitions to its role as the new airport’s Terminal 5 on October 25. By spring 2020, just in time for the summer travel season, Terminal 2 is expected to open. Over the next 20 years, until roughly 2040, the airport will open Terminals 3 and 4.
Linking 150 worldwide destinations, Berlin Brandenburg Airport will be Germany’s third–busiest airport after Frankfurt and Düsseldorf. Covering a sprawling 3,632 acres, roughly the size of 2,000 soccer fields, the new airport’s initial capacity will be 27 million passengers. By 2040, that figure should rise to 45 million.
“We are pleased that Berlin Brandenburg Airport is going to open its doors to the public,” said Ricarda Lindner, Regional Manager, The Americas, for the German National Tourist Office. “We look forward to a long and successful future, especially once COVID-19 restrictions are eased and the terminals of BER open up to an international travel audience—especially to and from the U.S.”
Traffic will be diverted to the new Berlin Brandenburg Airport from Tegel Airport, northwest of Berlin’s city center. Until now, Berlin’s main international airport and Germany’s fourth–busiest airport, Tegel ceases operation on November 8.
But Tegel will not close without fanfare befitting one of Germany’s—and the world’s—most historic airports. From Tegel, U.S. and allied planes took off during the 1948–49 Berlin Airlift, dropping tons of food and supplies to starving German citizens during World War II. Air France, the first scheduled commercial carrier to take off from Tegel in 1960, will salute the storied airfield with a final flight from its runways.
Given current Covid–19 restrictions against U.S. travel to Europe, Americans won’t be able to experience the new Berlin Brandenburg Airport for several more months. But there’s plenty to look forward to.
Built on eight levels, Terminal 1 showcases the clean lines of glass and steel epitomized by Germany’s early 20th-century Bauhaus style while referencing the Neoclassicism of 19th-century Berlin architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel. Offsetting the cool rectilinear design is the natural warmth of French walnut veneers on walls and counters. Lining the floors is handsome yet functional Jurassic limestone.
Incredibly spacious, Terminal 1 will offer an array of services, including check-in and arrival gates as well as baggage check-in and claim areas. In the Berlin Welcome Center, travelers can plan visits to the capital, book a hotel room, or buy the Berlin WelcomeCard, providing free city transportation as well as discounted admission to museums and other attractions. In the Deutsche Bahn Travel Centre, train tickets to outlying cities can be booked.
A central Marketplace in Terminal 1 eventually will offer upwards of 120 cafés, shops and services. In a separate Marketplace gallery, there will be a Food Court with seven restaurants. Dining choices include a range of international dishes, 50 percent representing regional specialties.
Art lovers will appreciate the new airport as much as foodies. For over a century, Berlin has been a major European art capital, site of Museum Island, with its five-storied institutions, as well as stand-alone museums like Berlinische Galerie with striking German Expressionist works. Since German Reunification started in 1990, thousands of artists have flocked to Berlin, creating a world capital of contemporary art.
Underscoring the city’s arty appeal, Berlin Brandenburg Airport has commissioned six works on the theme of “air-land” by artists from Germany, Japan, The Netherlands and the U.S.
Embedded in the Arrivals Hall’s floor, coins from around the world form the installation “Starry Sky” by STOEBO, a collaboration between Dutch artist Cisca Bogman and Oliver Störmer, a native Berliner.
Upon leaving from Terminal 1’s Check-In Hall, visitors encounter what is perhaps the airport’s most talked–about work. Floating high above the hall, “The Magic Carpet” by Pasadena–born Pae White is an evocative cloud of red metal mesh, featuring hundreds of tiny aluminum pieces machined by Arnold AG, the venerable metallurgical firm founded in Hamburg in 1924.
Works by White, who was influenced by mobile–designer par excellence Alexander Calder and attended Maine’s famous Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture, hang in London’s Tate Modern, The Art Institute of Chicago and New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).
For all its beauty and artistry, Berlin Brandenburg Airport was designed, first and foremost, to meet travelers’ practical needs—including transportation to and from the facility. Airport planners estimate that 2 out of 3 passengers—about 66 %—will use public transportation to travel between the terminals and Berlin. The new Berlin Brandenburg Airport features a six–platform rail station with three platforms directly beneath Terminal 1.
Between centrally located Terminals 1 and 2, and Terminal 5 to the north, it’s an 8–minute run aboard regional trains. Between the airport and Berlin, both S–Bahn and regional trains speed passengers to the Berlin Hauptbahnhof, the city’s central train station, in a mere 30 minutes. If you’re bound for cities farther afield, long–distance Deutsche Bahn (DB) trains also have been integrated into the system.
As for surface transportation, an Airport Express bus, running between the terminals, links the airport to Berlin. Taxis and ride–sharing services are also available.
If you’re driving, there’s also easy highway access. Between Berlin and Terminals 1 and 2, the A113 Autobahn leads to the No.8 entry/exit point, “Flughafen–Berlin–Brandenburg.” Terminal 5 will be accessible from the A113 via the No. 7 junction “Schönefeld-Süd” as well as Highway B96a. The new airport offers upwards of 10,000 parking spaces in car parks and multilevel garages.
With excellent transportation options, there’s little chance of experiencing delays while traveling to or from Berlin Brandenburg Airport. But if your flight is delayed or you just want to overnight near the airport, there are several good hotel options.
Chief among them is the new four–star Steigenberger Airport Hotel Berlin. As if echoing the airport’s design, the Steigenberger features clean, contemporary lines, understated wood interiors, and muted gray and beige tones. The 332 rooms boast welcome amenities like flat–screen TVs, coffee–tea makers and free high–speed WiFi. Also available: Air conditioning, increasingly welcome as global warming brings steamier summers to Europe.
The Steigenberger Hotel also has a spacious Spa and Fitness Area. Diners can enjoy 24–hour room service, snacks at the bar, or regional and international specialties at the 250–seat gourmet restaurant.
With stylish hotels, restaurants and other travel-friendly services, the new Berlin Brandenburg Airport offers plenty of reasons for Americans to work harder than ever to bring the Covid–19 pandemic under control. With lots of caution and a little luck, we could be heading back to Berlin and the rest of Europe sooner than we think.
IF YOU GO
Monique Burns is a longtime travel writer and editor, and a European Correspondent for Jax Fax Magazine, a travel magazine for U.S. travel agents. A former Travel & Leisure Senior Editor, she travels frequently to Europe, but can sometimes be found in far-flung locales like India and Asia. After more than 30 years in the travel business, she still appreciates the world’s many cultural differences and can honestly say that she’s never met a place she didn’t like.