Berlin’s Tegel airport to close in mid-June amid drop in passenger numbers

The inner-city Berlin airport Tegel will close temporarily in mid-June, it was announced on Wednesday, a decision which could later be made permanent.

Berlin’s city government has decided to bring forward the closure of the historic airport that once served former West Berlin by four months due to the impact the corona crisis has had on passenger numbers.

Tegel was supposed to close in October when the long-delayed new BER Berlin Brandenburg international airport opens its doors. But a collapse in passenger numbers at Tegel and the capital’s other airport, Schönefeld, has caused the city to rethink its plans.

READ ALSO: 'No risks' ahead of Berlin-Brandenburg airport opening in October 2020

With just 2,000 passengers flying in an out of the city daily, compared to normal numbers of around 100,000, Berlin has come to the decision that Schönefeld can cope with the lowered demand alone.

There had been some resistance from the federal government, which wanted Tegel to stay open in case state officials arrived on diplomatic missions during the summer. But they have now backed down, deciding to allow state visits to happen at the notoriously downmarket Schöneld airport.

Tegel will be kept in a state of preparedness should passenger numbers spike over the summer and threaten to overwhelm capacity at Schönefeld.

“Personally I would prefer to keep Tegel open until the autumn,” airport boss Lütke Daldrup told local broadcaster RBB. “If I get 50,000 passengers, Tegel will be put straight back into business. But I’m honestly not optimistic that we are going to see those numbers in the next few months.”

A rarity

Tegel’s colourful history as a location for aviation dates back to the early 20th century when a Prussian airship battalion was based there. The first hangar was constructed over a hundred years ago in 1906.

It played a crucial role in breaking the Russian blockade on West Berlin in 1948 and welcomed its first commercial flight at the start of the 1960s, a moment that marked it out over Tempelhof as the main landing station in the city’s west.

Reachable from most parts of the city with a regular bus ticket, the airport is something of a rarity in western Europe – an inner city airport with connections to destinations across the continent.

But with the multi-billion euro BER airport set to open almost a decade behind schedule at the end of October, Tegel’s last chapter could well have now been written.

BER was planned in the 1990s and construction began in 2006.

It was originally to open in 2011 but the date has been repeatedly pushed back over a series of issues, including fire safety.

The airport is intended to replace both Tegel and Schönefeld.

READ ALSO: Berlin's BER Airport to finally open in October 2020

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Munich sees sharp rise in Covid cases after Oktoberfest

Since the start of Germany’s Oktoberfest, the incidence of Covid infections in Munich has risen sharply. Though a connection with the festival can’t yet be proven, it seems likely.

Munich sees sharp rise in Covid cases after Oktoberfest

Two weeks after the start of Oktoberfest, the Covid numbers in Munich have more than tripled.

On Sunday, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) reported an incidence of 768.7 for the city of Munich, though updated figures for the end of the festival are not expected until later in the week. Usually, on weekends and public holidays, there is a delay in reports.

In the entire state of Bavaria, the incidence value on Sunday was 692.5.

According to Munich’s public health officer, Beatrix Zurek, bed occupancy in Munich hospitals has also increased. Two weeks ago, 200 beds in Munich were occupied by Covid patients, whereas there are now around 350.

Though a relationship between the sharp rise in infections with Oktoberfest, which ended on Monday, can’t be proven at the moment, it seems very likely, according to experts. A significant increase in Covid incidences has also been shown at other public festivals – about one and a half weeks after the start. 

READ ALSO: Germany’s famed Oktoberfest opens after two-year pandemic hiatus

After a two-year break due to the pandemic, around 5.7 million visitors came to this year’s Wiesn according to the festival management – around 600,000 fewer than at the last Oktoberfest before the pandemic in 2019, when there were 6.3 million.

Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) took to Twitter to comment on the rise in incidence in Munich during the Oktoberfest. “This would not have been necessary if self-tests had been taken before admission,” he said.

“Compared to the price of a measure of beer, €2-3 (for tests) wouldn’t have mattered,” he said.

Even before the start of the Wiesn, he had spoken out in favour of people taking voluntary self-tests. Lauterbach stressed that now is the time for special measures against Covid.

“The development shows what will happen if the states wait too long with the mask obligation in indoor areas,” he added.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: Germany’s new Covid-19 rules from October

In neighbouring counties, where many Oktoberfest visitors came from, the number of Covid cases has also risen noticeably.  Beatrix Zurek said that it is unclear, however, how much of a role Oktoberfest played in these figures, as people are currently much more active socially overall, with concerts and other events also taking place throughout the state.

Christoph Spinner, an infections specialist at Munich’s Klinikum, has urged people not to be alarmed by the rising numbers.

“We had expected rising incidences here. We knew that there could be a doubling, tripling, even quadrupling,” he said.

He said that this is no cause for concern, as many people have been vaccinated or have also recovered from previous Covid infections, so any new infections are therefore usually mild.

The virologist advises people over 60 or with pre-existing conditions to get a second booster vaccination, but otherwise said people shouldn’t be alarmed by the rising incidences.