The airport here is Tegel, and I think it would be fair to say it is my least-favorite airport in the world. It basically has the aura of a bus depot. And that's fine for a bus depot (sort of), or even a small regional airport with random flights during the day. But Tegel is an international airport in Berlin, the largest city in Germany with 3.4 million people, twice the number of the second largest, Hamburg.
(One possible reason for this maaaay be that for many years Berlin was, of course, dropped in the middle of East Germany and surrounded, so they didn't have a lot of land for building a big and normal international airport. And there's no room for expansion, even today. Who knows, maybe not, but it sounds like a reasonable theory. Still, it feels old and musty, and that could at least be upgraded. Maybe for years they didn't want to put money into it because of the planned second airport. Which brings us to this story. )
When I made my first trip to Berlin for the IFA tech trade show five years ago, the travel books I got at the time talked about a new airport under construction at the south part of the city. Tegel is to the north. I keep checking before each trip, but Tegel remains the only airport here.
A few months ago, I was at an event where it turned out a older couple was seated at my table who were from Germany. As the conversation went on, it turned out further that they were from Berlin. We had a very pleasant talk -- and then later, a question occurred to me. I had mentioned my previous trips and said how I had read about this new airport that was supposed to be built in Berlin, but so far, after all that time, there still was only Tegel. What was the status of that other airport, I asked.
It was as if I had asked a question about the ne'er-do-well black sheep child who is never spoken of. This previously charming couple suddenly went silent, and their faces dropped. "Don't ask," they said. And when I sort of thought they might be joking or exaggerating, followed up. "Don't ask," they repeated. "It's terrible."
Though they didn't literally mean "Don't ask," it was pretty close. They did explain a bit, but it was clearly something they hated talking about. The best I could make out is that this other airport turned out to be a massive boondoggle. I couldn't tell if any construction had ever started, though I got the sense it had, but they were pretty adamant in saying that it would never open. Never. No, it will never open. And they were pretty darn sullen about it.
(My experience over the years, which I've had confirmed to me by people who've spent a great deal of time in Germany, is that it's not that Germans are so efficient, as is their reputation, but rather that they are brilliant at following directions. If the directions are great, then the results are great. But when the directions go awry, then what follows is a total muddles disaster. I sense that this, in part, colored the couple's reaction. To have such plans go so far off the runway, as it was, was just too painful.)
Later in the evening, this couple's daughter came over to the table -- she'd been seated elsewhere with her American husband. We chatted for a while, and then I brought up my question about the proposed airport and her parent's reaction. Though she wasn't as dour about it, she too rolled her eyes...and repeated, "It will never open." And I explained the reason I brought it up was because I wasn't crazy about Tegel.
Without missing a beat she rolled her eyes and said "It's a bus station."