Berlin’s Tegel airport to close Sunday: Five facts you need to know

Drab and outdated but beloved for its convenience and quirky hexagonal design, Berlin's Tegel airport will finally close for good on Sunday after more than 60 years.

Berlin's Tegel airport to close Sunday: Five facts you need to know
A plane touching down at Tegel on October 23rd. Photo: DPA

The former West Berlin hub is being put into retirement to make way for the new Berlin Brandenburg Airport (BER), which finally opened last week after years of embarrassing delays.

Here are five things to know about the airport with humble beginnings that became a high-flier in German hearts.

Flying start

Tegel was originally built in just 90 days in 1948 during the Berlin Airlift, a huge operation to fly in supplies under the Soviet blockade of West Berlin.

Some 19,000 citizens worked round-the-clock alongside the Allies to ensure its quick completion.

READ ALSO: What's next for Berlin's Tegel airport when it closes in November?

Since Berlin's main airport at Tempelhof was not big enough to receive certain aircraft, Tegel was constructed with a 2,428-metre runway — the longest in Europe at the time.

The first plane to land there on November 5th had eight tonnes of cheese in the hold.

Tegel's famous hexagonal concrete terminal was built in the 1960s and the growing hub replaced Tempelhof as West Berlin's main airport in 1975.

Ease of travel

Designed to handle 2.5 million passengers a year but latterly receiving more than 20 million, Tegel had become overcrowded and woefully outdated — notorious in particular for its terrible toilets.

But Tegel was a dream for travellers with little time to spare thanks to its super-convenient design.

Taxis driving through Tegel. Photo: DPA

The main terminal's unusual shape meant walking distances as short as 30 metres from the aircraft to the exit, guaranteeing a smooth landing.

And with security at every gate, checking in was a breeze too.

Famous passengers to pass through the airport included US President John F Kennedy, who arrived at Tegel to give his iconic “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech in West Berlin. 

French connection

The last plane to take off from Tegel will be an Air France flight to Paris Charles de Gaulle at 3 pm on Sunday — a nod to the airport's location in what was once the French sector of the city.

Air France also operated the first commercial flight to land at Tegel, from Paris via Frankfurt in early 1960.

Until German reunification in 1990, only British, French and US airlines were allowed to operate regular flights to West Berlin.

Airport that wouldn't die

To make way for the new BER facility, Tegel was originally due to close in 2012.

But with the new airport plagued by delay after delay, trusty TXL was repeatedly called on to step into the breach.

In a referendum organised by locals in 2017, Berliners voted to keep Tegel open, but authorities eventually confirmed the closure for late 2020.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about Berlin's 'cursed' new BER airport

Future plans

Berlin mayor Michael Müller summed up the feelings of many residents when he described the closure as “heartbreaking” for the city.

Since Tempelhof airport closed in 2008, its runways have become a sprawling park where Berliners enjoy picnics and bike rides.

The space around Tegel, just 30 minutes' drive from the city centre, will be converted into a residential area with shops, schools, nurseries and housing for more than 10,000 people.

There are also plans for an office park, with the terminal buildings to form part of the Beuth University of Applied Sciences.

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EXPLAINED: How could government intervene to settle Denmark nurses’ strike?

Over one in four people in Denmark are in favour of political intervention to resolve an ongoing nurses’ strike, but political resolutions to labour disputes are uncommon in the country.

EXPLAINED: How could government intervene to settle Denmark nurses’ strike?
Striking nurses demonstrate in Copenhagen on July 10th. OPhoto: Ida Guldbæk Arentsen/Ritzau Scanpix

In a new opinion poll conducted by Voxmeter on behalf of news wire Ritzau, 27.3 percent said they supported political intervention in order to end the current industrial conflict was has almost 5,000 nurses currently striking across Denmark, with another 1,000 expected to join the strike next month.


Over half of respondents – 52.6 percent – said they do not support political intervention, however, while 20.1 percent answered, “don’t know”.

That may be a reflection of the way labour disputes are normally settled within what is known as the ‘Danish model’, in which high union membership (around 70 percent) amongst working people means unions and employers’ organisations negotiate and agree on wages and working conditions in most industries.

The model, often referred to as flexicurity, is a framework for employment and labour built on negotiations and ongoing dialogue to provide adaptable labour policies and employment conditions. Hence, when employees or employers are dissatisfied, they can negotiate a solution.

But what happens when both sides cannot agree on a solution? The conflict can evolve into a strike or a lockout and, occasionally, in political intervention to end the dispute.

READ ALSO: How Denmark’s 2013 teachers’ lockout built the platform for a far greater crisis

Grete Christensen, leader of the Danish nurses’ union DSR, said she can now envisage a political response.

“Political intervention can take different forms. But with the experience we have of political intervention, I can envisage it, without that necessarily meaning we will get what we are campaigning for,” Christensen told Ritzau.

“Different elements can be put into a political intervention which would recognise the support there is for us and for our wages,” she added.

A number of politicians have expressed support for intervening to end the conflict.

The political spokesperson with the left wing party Red Green Alliance, Mai Villadsen, on Tuesday called for the prime minister Mette Frederiksen to summon party representatives for talks.

When industrial disputes in Denmark are settled by parliaments, a legal intervention is the method normally used. But Villadsen said the nurses’ strike could be resolved if more money is provided by the state.

That view is supported by DSR, Christensen said.

“This must be resolved politically and nurses need a very clear statement to say this means wages will increase,” the union leader said.

“This exposes the negotiation model in the public sector, where employers do not have much to offer because their framework is set out by (parliament),” she explained, in reference to the fact that nurses are paid by regional and municipal authorities, whose budgets are determined by parliament.

DSR’s members have twice voted narrowly to reject a deal negotiated between employers’ representatives and their union.

The Voxmeter survey consists of responses from 1,014 Danish residents over the age of 18 between July 15th-20th.