Berlin’s Tegel airport has subsisted by chance alone, defying the odds as passenger growth outpaces every other major hub in Western Europe.
The airport reported passenger growth of 7.9 percent last year, more than twice the pace of London Heathrow, the busiest hub in Europe. Compared with Frankfurt’s 0.9 percent advance, Tegel’s passenger inflow was downright explosive.
Tegel’s boom is also its swan song. An hour’s drive south of the hexagon building lies a 4.5 billion-euro ($6.1 billion) replacement hub fit to accommodate the millions of tourists flowing into Germany’s capital. The only catch: the new airport should have taken over two years ago, before technical faults derailed the plan. That’s given a new lease of life to the 1970s Tegel beloved by passengers for its short distances as much as it is ridiculed for a lack of shopping.
“Tegel provides total clarity, the entire airport is comprehensible at first sight,” said Meinhard von Gerkan, 79, the architect who designed the building four decades ago and also planned Berlin’s new Willy-Brandt terminus, now due to open after 2015. “Transfer times are reduced due to the round setup. But that’s a contradiction to the idea of having passengers take the longest possible route to channel them past perfume bottles and t-shirts.”
Tegel is a relic of the Cold-War era, when Berlin was a tiny island in a communist ocean and Frankfurt the country’s undisputed gateway to the world. First designed to handle 2.7 million passengers, that number jumped to 19.6 million last year. While still a fraction of the 58 million served at Frankfurt, Berlin’s status as a prime tourist attraction has steadily fed Tegel beyond its most optimistic capacity.
Berlin had a record 26 million overnight guests last year, its tourism office said, making it Europe’s No. 3 city destination. Tegel’s passenger total ranked 24th for Europe as a whole and fourth in Germany after Frankfurt, Munich and Dusseldorf. Berlin Schoenefeld, which will be subsumed by the new airport, saw a 7.3 percent contraction to 6.58 million.