Berlin's Mayor Klaus Wowereit and Brandenburg state premier Matthias Platzeck both attended the symbolic launch of the project.
The city hopes the €2.2 billion airport will serve 25 million passengers per year after its completion in 2011. The new airport will overtake the nearby discount airline hub Schönefeld.
Construction on BBI has gone ahead despite controversy over closing the functional and more-conveniently located Tegel airport in northwest Berlin. Despite its brand new terminal, and the 13.4 million passengers who used it last year, Tegel will close as soon as the new expanded airport in Schönefeld opens.
Calls have been made for a broad public discussion about what should happen to the 450 hectare site just north of the city, but so far no big private investor with a grand idea has come forward.
The senate is suggesting a mixture of accommodation and work places, while keeping the large central piece of land open as a park.