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We go inside Berlin’s new Brandenburg airport (Part 1)

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This is our review of the new Berlin Brandenburg airport.

We have split it into two parts. This article looks at the history of the project, getting to the airport, check-in, security and the shopping options.

Part 2 of our Berlin Brandenburg review, which is here, looks at the airport lounges as well as passport control and the gate arrangements.

Background

The saga of Berlin’s Brandenburg airport is a bit embarrassing for Germans, who like to think they can pull off large infrastructure projects efficiently.

The airport, which finally opened this month, is nine years and €4 billion over budget. Even Crossrail has a way to go before it reaches the nine year mark!

Berlin-Brandenburg Airport exterior

Berlin Brandenburg airport is the first act in a 1989 re-unification dream that aims to bring Berlin’s two (formerly three) airports into one. Construction started in 2006 with the goal of opening in 2011.

Unfortunately, as the opening approached, serious issues were found with fire protection systems, which lead to further discoveries of inadequate structural elements such as escalators.

The story gets increasingly ludicrous. At one point, the airport considered hiring 700 fire spotters to loiter around the terminal in the case of fire since the automated systems were useless.

In 2018, all the airport display screens were replaced for €500,000 after reaching their end of life, despite the fact that they had never been used.

After nine years, however, the airport has finally opened to paying customers after rigorous trials involving 9,000 “passengers”, and reader Pete was on the first British Airways departure! Over to Pete:

“Berlin Brandenburg (BER) airport finally saw its first passengers on 31st October 2020, nine years after its originally-planned opening date of October 2011. BA moved its operations from Tegel overnight from 7th to 8th November and I was on their first flight out.

Getting to Berlin Brandenburg Airport

Berlin Brandenburg is located on the same site – and uses the same runway – as the low-cost Schönefeld Airport, which has been now been renamed Berlin Brandenburg Terminal 5 and remains open.

Whilst the new build will eventually comprise of two terminals, currently only Terminal 1 has opened due to the fall in customer demand.

The airport is definitely further away from the city centre than Tegel, which has now closed permanently. Depending on where you live in Berlin, the time difference may not be so big.

Berlin-Brandenburg Airport train station

My journey, from Prenzlauer Berg, took about 45 minutes to Tegel and took about the same to Berlin Brandenburg.

There are plans for four trains per hour to serve the airport from the city centre, with a journey time of around 30 minutes.

Berlin-Brandenburg Airport train station (2)

If you want a geekier overview of the rail links, there is one here.

The great thing is that all the services to and from the airport fall under Berlin tariff zone C, which means that a one-way ticket is only €3.60 per person.

The railway station itself is directly under the terminal and it is huge and airy. There are lifts and escalators going into the building.

Taxis, Ubers and FreeNows drop off one level above the station. They are about €40-50 per journey to the city centre and take 40-50 minutes so not hugely quicker than public transport.

Check-in at Berlin Brandenburg Airport

Once inside the terminal, there is definitely a sense of open space, air and light which is unheard of at either Tegel or Schönefeld.

You are met by a huge red artwork floating above the check-in area. The use of wood throughout gives the place a warmer feel than, say, Zurich.

Berlin-Brandenburg Airport terminal 1

That being said, from the outside, the building does have a bit of an oppressive look!

Berlin-Brandenburg Airport exterior

Check-in desks are organised into ten smaller islands. BA is currently working from island 3, which has the Lufthansa premium check-in on the other side. The below picture gives you an idea of the set-up:

Berlin-Brandenburg Airport check in

BA had four desks open on the first day – one for business, one for bag drop and two for economy. It was clear the staff were getting to grips with the new set-up as the queue was moving extremely slowly and was fairly long, even though check-in opened exactly 2 hours before departure. I haven’t been able to confirm what the cut-off time is for check-in, but would assume 60 minutes just in case.

Security at Berlin Brandenburg Airport

I was rather surprised by how cramped and inefficient the security area is.

There are supposedly 36 lanes, most of them shut. I imagine that if they had taken the more modern approach of giving people a space to prepare and send off their belongings without holding up the whole queue (think Heathrow Terminal 5) they could have done with half.

In this set up, the whole queue has to wait for each individual to place their belongings on the conveyor belt, whilst being watched by two security officers. There also isn’t much space to repack on the other end.

There is a priority section as well, but all the lanes are so quiet I cannot see the point of even having it open at the moment.

Overall it’s a major improvement to at-gate security at Tegel, but I don’t think it’ll be a great experience once the airport gets busier. I am not sure it’ll be easy to modify the set-up longer term.

This feels like one of the really negative legacies of the place having been designed at least 15 years ago. Clearly a lot has changed and improved in the intervening years in this field.

Shopping & dining at Berlin Brandenburg Airport

Finally, even in Berlin, you now exit airport security via a gift-shop. Well, a duty-free shop, of course.

The choice of retail and food & beverage is on a different level to Tegel or Schönefeld. You emerge from security and duty-free into another airy hall full of shops.

Some units clearly haven’t been let yet, but most are open and trading. Most restaurants do not offer any seating due to current Covid regulations, but you can still buy a draft beer! You can see a list of shops here.

Berlin-Brandenburg Airport shopping (2)

From what I could work out, cigarettes and alcohol seemed concentrated in the duty-free shop past passport control in the non-Schengen area.

Berlin-Brandenburg Airport duty free

Very important for Berliners and those needing groceries: there is a Rewe supermarket that is open 6am – 11pm 7-days a week (!) just above the railway station.

There is also a Steigenberger Hotel right next to the main terminal – currently only available for key workers.

In Part 2 ….

Click here to read Part 2 of our Berlin Brandenburg review, including the all-important lounges! If you are reading this via email, you have not been send Part 2 – please click here to read it on the website.

Comments (19)

  • IMH says:

    It’s “Berlin Brandenburg Airport”, without a hyphen, not “Berlin-Brandenburg Airport and definitely not “”Berlin’s Brandenburg Airport”.

    • Rob says:

      Clearly the last one IS correct, in the same way that writing London’s Heathrow Airport just announced …. would be correct.

      • Peter says:

        No, it’s both Berlin’s and Brandenburg’s airport! Berlin is not in Brandenburg, and Brandenburg is not in Berlin – it’s two neighboring states. You can either call it Berlin airport because it’s the more known area, or Berlin (and) Brandenburg airport.

        • Rob says:

          But Brandenburg is the name of the airport – the fact that it is also a place name is irrelevant. Heathrow, remember, is also a place name – there was a village called Heathrow on the spot where the airport now stands.

          Being married to a German, I can also confirm that German’s like to add hyphens in places where a Brit wouldn’t. However, purely for standardisation, I have taken them out as the bits added by Rhys did not have hyphens. (Rhys is also half-German though so potentially he should have wanted them in!)

          • Peter says:

            I am German too btw. My point is you can’t call it Berlin’s Brandenburg airport like it is Berlin’s Schonefeld airport or London’s Heathrow airport. It is named after both Berlin and Brandenburg state, nobody would call it just Brandenburg Airport like Heathrow Airport or Schonefeld Airport. You would never say that the state of Brandenburg is part of the state of Berlin. Try to find a German source where it is referred as just Brandenburg Flughafen – they always call it either Berlin Brandenburg Flughafen or Flughafen BER. (It would be a different story if it was named after the city and not after the state of Brandenburg)

          • marcw says:

            The airport is actually called Willy Brandt and it’s both: Berlin’s and Brandenburg’s Willy Brandt airport. So I agree with Peter here. And I’m German too!

          • RussellH says:

            The airport logo is
            FLUGHAFEN
            BERLIN
            BRANDENBURG
            without any hypens. Which I understand to mean “Airport (for) Berlin (and) Brandenburg.

            If I want to be pedantic, I can check rules 23 to 28 in Duden, which govern the use of hyphens. I see nothing there to suggest that a hyphen would be appropriate.

            Hyphens are used in the names of political units where a merger has taken place, such as the states of Baden-Württemberg or Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. But since Berlin and Brandenburg are still (there have been merger discussions) two separate states, a hyphen seems to be quite wrong, since it would imply a merger of the two, which has not happened.

          • Doug M says:

            I’m not German and it’ll never be Tegel so who cares.

          • Peter says:

            Another example:
            It’s Leipzig Halle Airport and Cologne Bonn Airport because they are shared between both cities – you wouldn’t say it’s Leipzig’s Halle airport, or Cologne’s Bonn airport – either just Leipzig or Cologne airport, or you would mention both, but not just the second name. Same here, the airport is shared between Berlin and Brandenburg.

          • Muzer says:

            I think he’s comparing it with (say) Dallas Fort Worth. You wouldn’t say Dallas’s Fort Worth airport.

          • Bagoly says:

            Apostrophe invasion alert: in English the plural form is “Germans”!

  • Pete says:

    I love that the discussion here has taken a slightly different angle to that under part 2! 🙂

  • Anna says:

    Never mind hyphens; I still can’t cope with the verb being at the end of the sentence!

    • RussellH says:

      That is a very common misconception! In a simple sentence in German the verb is always the **second** item (not necessarily word) in the sentence.§

      It is **past participles** that go to the end, so you get the equivalent of “I have my dinner eaten.”

      The only time a main verb is at the end of something is in a **subordinate clause** eg “That is the boy, with whom my daughter tonight is out going.”

      § Simple questions, the verb is the first item, as in the archaic-sounding English “Like you this work?”

      PS I wish that more languages used the Spanish opening ¿. Very useful.

    • Genghis says:

      You wouldn’t like Japanese.

  • Pedro says:

    “The airport, which finally opened this month, is nine years and €4 billion over budget. Even Crossrail has a way to go before it reaches the nine year mark!”

    Right. But not on the €4 billion mark.

  • Joe says:

    Despite living c. 5km from Germany and going c. once a fortnight I’ve never been to Berlin – criminal. Will have to fly up from Zurich when the pandemic is over

  • ADS says:

    Having a proper supermarket at the airport is great

    I love arriving into Munich and stocking up on food and supplies before heading off to Austria to ski for a week (BC) !

    • Pete says:

      It’s not a proper supermarket, to be fair – more of a Sainsbury’s Local type thing. No fresh fruit, vegetables or meat, for instance. There is a pfant-machine though!