Sunday, April 15, 2012

The end of an era

Pretty soon, Berlin’s historic Tegel airport will close, to coincide with the opening of the new Berlin Brandenburg airport.

I say “pretty soon”, but of course it won’t be until the beginning of June.

I say “historic”, but of course Berlin Tegel airport was opened a little while after the Second World War as a sort of a stop-gap, desparately bolted together on a field in the north of the city. It was only ever half-completed (literally: the original plans were for a second terminal, a mirror-image of the first, to be built, but when additional terminals came, they were hastily constructed out of what looked like laminated cardboard in the last couple of years in what could be described as Tegel’s terminal phase). What there was of it was designed so that passengers would only have to walk very short distances, which is why the airport was chronically overcrowded, with queues at the check-in desks obstructing the main concourse. Worryingly, the airport carried a secondary title — a concept unique to the German-speaking world — honouring Otto Lilienthal, one of the pioneers of powered flight, but also the first aviator in history to stall his plane and die in the resulting crash.

Lufthansa is planning to officially say goodbye to Tegel about ten days before it actually closes by allowing an A380 to circle above the aiport.

Not land, apparently: circle above it, unless I’ve misunderstood something. Or rather, circle above the city, since a plane of that size has a fairly large turning circle. Tegel, I believe, isn’t big enough for an A380, and Berlin Brandenburg won’t be open, so I’m not sure what they’re planning to do with the A380 once it’s circled. One assumes — hopes, certainly — that they won’t attempt to re-enact Lilienthal’s last flight.

To make the whole thing even more pointless (or less pointful?), the mayor of Berlin will name the plane “Berlin”. Suddenly, it becomes clear what all these civil servants are doing who earn three quarters of a million euros sitting in an office for 14 years: they’re not actually doing nothing, they’re being held in reserve should the need arise for a little brainstorming.

“Okay, chaps,” a schoolmasterly mandarin will say (although in German, obviously), “this is your big moment. We’re closing down Berlin’s principle airport. We need to mark the event somehow. What can you come up with?”

After a lot of civil service headscratching, a brave soul tables a suggestion. “How about we get the biggest plane we can find, fly it to Berlin, but we don’t let it land. To symbolize the lack of airport,”

“An interesting idea,” says the mandarin. “But can we think of a way to emphasize the connection with Berlin?”

A few minutes of finger-drumming and distracted humming ensue, until a nervous little man raises a hand. “Do you think,” he ventures, “we could get the mayor to give it a whack with a bottle of champagne?”

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