ON A RECENT trip to Berlin I was somewhat taken aback by the relative shabbiness of the city’s Schönefeld airport, which didn't seem to me to have anything like the facilities one would expect from the capital city of Europe’s largest and most successful economy. The terminal buildings seemed old and sad and had obviously been haphazardly developed over the years to cope with growth.
It turned out that Schönefeld is a pre-war airfield that serviced East Berlin until the wall came down in 1989, and that it was due to be pensioned off long ago, to be replaced by a brand new state-of-the-art airport nearby – the ‘Willy Brandt’ (or Brandenburg) Airport, which has been under construction since 2006.
For those of us still dismayed by the shambolic incompetence, lateness, and lack of budgetary control shown by major constructions in Scotland’s capital, such as the Parliament, the Usher Hall extension, and the Trams, it is a salutary lesson that others seem to be every bit as bad if not worse – even in super efficient Germany.
Having been postponed five times already, the opening of Berlin’s new airport has now been delayed again until 2014, precipitating the departure of Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit as chairman of the airport project.
Instead of the original €2.4bn, it is now expected to cost at least twice that, and that figure doesn’t take into account the extra costs in keeping the the old airport going, the money being lost by the new expensive commercial and retail facilities at the new airport which currently lie empty, or the expense incurred in running four empty trains a day through the new airport tunnels just to ventilate them.
The new airport was originally set to handle 45m passengers a year will be lucky to handle much more than 17m. There is even talk that they might have to demolish some of the new airport buildings and start afresh.
And it's not just the airport – we might think that Edinburgh’s Waverley Station refurbishment has been going on for ever, but at least it has not been plagued by flooding, mass stabbings, and falling roof girders as Berlin’s new central station has.
The rebuild of Berlin’s Staatsoper Opera House, which was closed in 2010 for refurbishment, and which was due to reopen in 2014, has now been postponed for at least another year due to the project running way over budget. It makes our botched Usher Hall refurbishment look well managed in comparison.
And if you want a shambles to rival the Scottish Parliament then look no further than Hamburg’s new concert hall; designed by Herzog & de Meuron, who were responsible for Beijing’s Bird Nest Stadium. Hamburg had originally prepared to contribute €77m to the project, but that figure has now ballooned to €323m, and is expected to rise further. The original completion date was 2010, but will now be at least 2015, if at all. The citizens of Hamburg are so disgusted at the mess that there is every likelihood of the whole thing being cancelled altogether.
It was going to be the tallest structure in Hamburg - one wonders whether they might emulate our Calton Hill, leave it unfinished, and just dub it ‘Hamburg's Disgrace’.
Until my recent trip to Germany, I had assumed that nobody was quite as hopeless as we Scots at building new iconic construction projects. I reluctantly have to admit that we seem to be relatively poor even at being hopeless, and that the Germans have beaten us yet again.