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.
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 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.
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.
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.
That being said, from the outside, the building does have a bit of an oppressive look!
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:
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.
From what I could work out, cigarettes and alcohol seemed concentrated in the duty-free shop past passport control in the non-Schengen area.
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.