It’s the end of July 2020: After many, many years it is finally going to happen. The opening of the new Berlin Brandenburg Airport BER in Germany’s capital city in October 2020. I was part of a test run before the opening.
I have to say that I am not necessarily a fan of the plan to close the Berlin Tegel Airport. I only live a 5-minute drive from the airport and was never inconvenienced by the noise. Or was I just very used to it? When flights were cancelled due to Corona I did notice a difference. I enjoyed how quiet it was and that birds of prey returned to our woodlands.
However, shutting down Tegel Airport means that we will have to travel on public transport for over an hour through the entire city to get to the new airport. I can no longer walk home like I used to. Some might say that those are just luxury complaints and that they always have to travel for however long to the nearest airport from where they live. Sure. But we are used to it, we love it that way and would rather not have it more difficult in the future as it was just so easy for us before.
This is exactly why I applied to be an extra in the big test run for the new BER airport. Just to see if I might end up liking it after all.
Getting to the #BERtesten testrun
On a Tuesday morning at around 8.00 I get on the train for my journey through the city.
The route that looked the most convenient to me would have been on the underground line U7 to Rudow. But like it is often the case in Berlin there was a stretch with a replacement bus service between two stops and this is absolutely not fun during rush hour. Even without luggage, it tends to be a squeeze on the replacement buses.
Another option would have been the S-Bahn. But on this route, some construction works were going on as well. A nice detour and replacement buses. This left me with option number 3. The train from Berlin Charlottenburg to Schönefeld Airport. There are not too many trains for this connection so I leave with plenty of time as delays or cancellations can happen.
Luckily this morning the train was on time. The “Airport Express” traversed the city in 40 un-express-like minutes from Charlottenburg to Schönefeld. Honestly, outside the rush hour, it doesn’t take me any longer than that from my flat if I take my car and use the motorway. This train could do with a little more “express” than it currently has.
From the Schönefeld Airport train station, I follow the signs to the shuttle – ORAT – to BER Airport. There are some RSV buses as well that connect the train station with Terminal 1 and 2 of BER Airport. These are the only options to get there without a car.
I hope this changes after the opening!
BERtesten – my day
At 9:30 on the dot the doors open for 400 extras who were invited for this simulation.
We started by registering and everyone was handed a high-vis vest and a tote bag with a mug, pen, trolly token, lanyard and an identification card for the day. At another table, small snack bags were handed out and lastly, everyone got their individual schedule for the next few hours.
Equipped with all of that we were guided into an area at arrivals where we waited and read our instructions.
I learned from my instructions that I was to embody two different characters and was to simulate two different departures and arrivals. A brief introduction followed and then the test began.
- Get a trolly – I got out my trolly token, queued and got myself a trolly √
- Collect two items of luggage – I headed over to the baggage reclaim area and picked up two suitcases. Those were actually packed suitcases and surprisingly heavy. √
- Do not pick up any cabin bags. Instead, I had been given a special task and was asked to pick up a musical instrument. I was handed a guitar. √
I ferried it all over to the Terminal 1 foyer on my trolly where I had to wait for the next stage of the test.
After all extras had been given their items it was time for the rope drop. Those who only had a few things to carry used the stairs or the escalators. Guests with trolleys were queuing for the hand full of available lifts. Because those were supposed to only be used by one person at a time this took what felt like an eternity.
I went up and had a look at the info monitors. My character had booked a flight to Southampton with Easyjet. The respective desks for each check-in were displayed on the monitors like at every other airport but some of the extras seemed to be completely lost and kept searching for where to go despite the desks being clearly numbered.
I queued for the bag drop. I noticed the lack of self check-in options that I know from many other airports. I asked at the check-in and a smiling employee explained that those didn’t exist yet when the airport had been planned so they also don’t exist in the actual airport.
What is this?! Germany’s capital cities’ airport?!
My guitar had to be dropped off at the desk for bulky luggage. The responsible staff members seemed to be somewhat out of their depths and struggled with the equipment. Eventually, they managed to check in my guitar.
With my boarding pass, I proceeded through security. Everything here also takes disproportionately long. If this was the real event many of us would have missed their flights. The staff didn’t appear to be used to the equipment and facilities just yet but practice makes perfect. And practice was what we were there for.
Crossing the terminal led me past the future shops that are mostly still under construction and will hopefully be done by the time of the opening. Next for me was passport control as Southampton is not part of the EU. Then, a little walk later, I arrived at the waiting area for my gate. The walk was certainly longer than in Tegel but not as long as in Mallorca or Frankfurt.
My first mission at the gate is usually finding a socket or USB outlets. I normally work while I wait so I need some form of power supply. I found exactly two sockets, behind a bin. And it was a “no” for USB ports – there are none! I asked and again was told by a smiling employee that those didn’t exist ten years ago and that they’ll hopefully be installed in the future. Well, at least the WiFi worked alright during the test. But will it still work when the airport is running at full capacity?
What is this?! Germany’s capital cities’ airport?!
It’s time to board – we leave the terminal via a staircase and get on a bus. The bus stands in for our plane for the day and will “fly” us to “Southampton”.
After a little drive with a lovely flight attendant, we “land” and I simulate an arrival at BER from Kittilä, Finnland.
We walk the corridors towards arrivals and then wait for our bags.
My info sheet tells me my tasks for my next simulated flight for the test. This time I don’t need a trolly, I just grab a carry on bag and a suitcase. With those, I walk back to the foyer and I start the process again.
I am flying to Antalya with Freebird this time. To the check-in I go, this time everything is a little quicker, not many extras are queuing when I arrive. The original crowd of 400 people has dispersed a little.
Again, I make my way through security. This time around, even though nothing about my small handbag has changed, they find a suspect object. What they have spotted I do not know. They didn’t find any objects that they would have had an issue with.
Next is passport control and then the waiting area at the gate. This “flight” had significantly more passengers and seating was available for only around half of us.
After boarding, we took another bus. This time they took us on a 20-minute tour of the airport. They explained the different buildings and their usage and showed us the fire department emergency vehicles. After the tour, our bus “landed” and we simulated an arrival at BER from Poznan, Poland.
Again, I’m crossing through the building to the baggage reclaim. Everyone picked up a suitcase and left the area. Very lovely employees collected the suitcases from us afterwards, we handed back our identification passes for the test and at around 15.45 a very long day came to an end.
Do I like BER Airport?
I am undecided. The exterior of the airport isn’t bad at all. Nothing spectacular and very functional.
The interior, however, disappointed me. My first impression was that it is retro, old, not modern. Dark wood is the main decorative feature of the check-in desks, the walls and the corridors. Maybe this was in style when the airport was planned but today it just looks old and dusty and anachronistic. I noticed the lack of sockets and USB power outlets as well as missing playgrounds for kids and not enough seating for guest. Hopefully, this will change once the shops and restaurants open.
The question of how the airport will handle operations at full capacity remains and #BERtesten can’t give us an answer. Only time will tell.