Berlin’s massive new airport a no-fly zone

Grand opening is delayed again amid problems

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BERLIN — Ten thousand guests were invited to the party. Caterers stood at the ready. More than 150 retail establishments had hired workers to stock shops and restaurants.

Lufthansa and AirBerlin had scheduled inaugural flights, sold tickets and organized a day to be remembered.

The much-touted opening of the Willy Brandt Brandenburg International Airport, years in the making, was scheduled for June 3.

But it was not to be.

To the humiliation of the nation, the opening was postponed - and not for the first time. The opening date had been planned first for October 2011, then June 3 and now March 17, 2013.

What happened to the celebrated German efficiency and pinpoint promptness?

The official explanation is that the airport’s emergency fire safety and smoke exhaust systems were not functioning properly, but that explanation was not widely believed.

An engineer for the electronics conglomerate Siemens Corp., which designed and built some of the airport’s equipment, said off the record that 700 workers had been hired to operate the equipment manually until it could function automatically.

Berlin’s mayor and members of the city council had been told as early as February that the airport would not be ready by June 3. It wasn’t only a question of the fire safety equipment but lots of other things that couldn’t be resolved by then.

Nevertheless, the decision was made to open June 3.

German aviation history

The new airport has been beset with problems from the beginning, the first over what to call it.

Candidates for the honor included Claus von Stauffenberg, the Roman Catholic aristocrat and German officer who organized the failed plot to kill Hitler in July 1944, and the actress Marlene Dietrich, who chose to leave Germany as the Nazis came to power.

Once the airport was named for Willy Brandt, the longtime postwar mayor of Berlin, German chancellor and Nobel Peace Prize winner, problems accumulated: construction delays, cost overruns, concerns about flight patterns and the bankruptcy of the original developer.

Now Berlin is faced with not only international embarrassment but also an additional cost of millions of euros to reimburse vendors, restaurants and airlines for the expenses and lost revenue.

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