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Berlin’s long-delayed new airport ready to open doors this week

Nine years late and eye-wateringly over budget, the Berlin region's new international airport will finally open on Saturday – in the middle of a global pandemic that has crippled air travel.

Berlin's long-delayed new airport ready to open doors this week
The new airport is ready for take off... finally. Photo: DPA

“We are ready for take-off!” insists the management team at the new Berlin Brandenburg Airport (BER), set to replace the German capital's ageing Tegel and Schönefeld airports.

But the mood is one of relief rather than celebration.

Ever since construction began on BER in 2006, the project has been dogged by one failure after another, becoming a financial black hole and a national laughing stock — not exactly an example of German efficiency.

The airport, located in the south-east of the capital, was originally due to open in 2011.

Now it is opening its doors in the middle of the worst crisis the aviation industry has ever seen, as Covid-19 restrictions continue to suffocate air travel.

And as if that were not enough, there's also the climate crisis: pressure group Extinction Rebellion is planning acts of “civil disobedience” on the opening day to protest against the impact of aviation on global warming.

READ ALSO: Berlin Brandenburg airport to open after nine year delay

 

'Not have a party'

Against that backdrop, “We will simply open, we will not have a party,” according to Engelbert Luetke Daldrup, president of the airport's management company.

Lufthansa and EasyJet will be the first two airlines to touch down on the tarmac of what will be Germany's third-largest airport, after Frankfurt and Munich.

A few days before the opening, around 200 staff were busy disinfecting the 360,000-square-metre Terminal 1.

Some 100 alcoholic hand gel dispensers have been installed and robot vacuum cleaners hum over the floors.

The “Magic Carpet”, a huge, bright red artwork by American artist Pae White suspended from the ceiling, brings a touch of colour to the check-in hall.

The airport has been designed to welcome 27 million passengers a year, but in November it will see only 20 percent of usual air traffic thanks to the pandemic.

Terminal 2 won't open until spring 2021.

Photo: DPA

About 15 shops and restaurants out of just over 100 will remain shut, while the rest will be forced to keep “limited opening hours” because of low traffic through the airport, a spokesman told AFP.

None of this good news for BER, initially projected to cost €1.7 billion ($2 billion) but already past the €6.5-billion mark ($7.6 billion).

The airport has been granted €300 million ($353 billion) in state aid to help safeguard the jobs of the 20,000 people who will eventually work there until the end of 2020.

SEE ALSO:  Inside Berlin's long-delayed BER before it opens

Job losses

The health crisis is already having an impact on employment at the hub: at the end of July, Berlin's airports announced the loss of 400 jobs out of a total of 2,100.

EasyJet has said it will cut 418 jobs in the German capital, and Europe's leading airline Lufthansa, Germany's flagship carrier, is to shed 30,000 jobs worldwide.

“We fear even greater job losses in the future,” a spokesman for the Verdi union told AFP.

Lütke Daldrup hopes the situation will improve “from the spring onwards”.

But the International Air Transport Association (IATA) does not expect global air traffic to reach pre-crisis levels until 2024.

In the state of Brandenburg, which surrounds Berlin, local leaders remain optimistic about the prospects for development.

“No hotel has so far postponed its investment plans because of the pandemic,” insists Olaf Lücke, president of the local branch of Germany's hotel and catering trade union (DEHOGA).

Construction work began in September on two 14,000-square-metre (150,000-square-foot) hotel complexes, due to open in 2022.

And in anticipation of the opening of BER, US electric-car giant Tesla has chosen Brandenburg as the location of its first European factory, which is set to employ 40,000 people.

“Having new, modern infrastructure will be beneficial in any case, despite the pandemic,” according to Carsten Brönstrup of the state employers' association.

But “if there is not a vaccine soon, it will be a very big problem,” he admits.

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IN IMAGES: Spain’s ‘scrap cathedral’ lives on after creator’s death

For over 60 years, former monk Justo Gallego almost single-handedly built a cathedral out of scrap materials on the outskirts of Madrid. Here is a picture-based ode to his remarkable labour of love.

IN IMAGES: Spain's 'scrap cathedral' lives on after creator's death
File photo taken on August 3, 1999 shows Justo Gallego Martinez, then 73, posing in front of his cathedral. Photo: ERIC CABANIS / AFP

The 96-year-old died over the weekend, but left the unfinished complex in Mejorada del Campo to a charity run by a priest that has vowed to complete his labour of love.

Gallego began the project in 1961 when he was in his mid-30s on land inherited from his family after a bout of tuberculosis forced him to leave an order of Trappist monks.

Today, the “Cathedral of Justo” features a crypt, two cloisters and 12 towers spread over 4,700 square metres (50,600 square feet), although the central dome still does not have a cover.

He used bricks, wood and other material scavenged from old building sites, as well as through donations that began to arrive once the project became better known.

A woman prays at the Cathedral of Justo on November 26, 2021. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
A woman prays at the Cathedral of Justo on November 26, 2021. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
 

The building’s pillars are made from stacked oil drums while windows have been cobbled and glued together from shards of coloured glass.

“Recycling is fashionable now, but he used it 60 years ago when nobody talked about it,” said Juan Carlos Arroyo, an engineer and architect with engineering firm Calter.

Men work at the Cathedral of Justo on November 26, 2021 in Mejorada del Campo, 20km east of Madrid.
Men work at the Cathedral of Justo on November 26, 2021 in Mejorada del Campo, 20km east of Madrid. Photo: (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)

The charity that is taking over the project, “Messengers of Peace”, hired the firm to assess the structural soundness of the building, which lacks a permit.

No blueprint

“The structure has withstood significant weather events throughout its construction,” Arroyo told AFP, predicting it will only need some “small surgical interventions”.

Renowned British architect Norman Foster visited the site in 2009 — when he came to Spain to collect a prize — telling Gallego that he should be the one getting the award, Arroyo added.

Religious murals on a walls of Justo's cathedral. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
Religious murals on a walls of Justo’s cathedral. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
 

The sturdiness of the project is surprising given that Gallego had no formal training as a builder, and he worked without a blueprint.

In interviews, he repeatedly said that the details for the cathedral were “in his head” and “it all comes from above”.

Builders work on the dome of the Cathedral of Justo on November 26th. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
Builders work on the dome of the Cathedral of Justo on November 26th. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
 

The complex stands in a street called Avenida Antoni Gaudi, named after the architect behind Barcelona’s iconic Sagrada Familia basilica which has been under construction since 1883.

But unlike the Sagrada Familia, the Cathedral of Justo Gallego as it is known is not recognised by the Roman Catholic Church as a place of worship.

Visit gaze at the stained glass and busts in of the cathedral's completed sections. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
Visit gaze at the stained glass and busts in of the cathedral’s completed sections. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
 

‘Worth visiting’

Father Angel Garcia Rodriguez, the maverick priest who heads Messengers of Peace, wants to turn Gallego’s building into an inclusive space for all faiths and one that is used to help the poor.

“There are already too many cathedrals and too many churches, that sometimes lack people,” he said.

“It will not be a typical cathedral, but a social centre where people can come to pray or if they are facing difficulties,” he added.

A photo of Justo Gallego Martinez on display at his cathedral following his passing. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
A photo of Justo Gallego Martinez on display at his cathedral following his passing. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
 

Father Angel is famous in Spain for running a restaurant offering meals to the homeless and for running a church in central Madrid where pets are welcome and the faithful can confess via iPad.

Inside the Cathedral of Justo, volunteers continued working on the structure while a steady stream of visitors walked around the grounds admiring the building in the nondescript suburb.

“If the means are put in, especially materials and money, to finish it, then it will be a very beautiful place of worship,” said Ramon Calvo, 74, who was visiting the grounds with friends.

FIND OUT MORE: How to get to Justo’s Cathedral and more amazing images

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