Berlin to dig up old WWII bombs under Tegel airport runway

Authorities have known for some time that old World War II munitions lie underneath the runways at Berlin’s Tegel airport, but now the airport plans to dig them up in early 2009, daily Berliner Morgenpost reported on Friday.

Berlin to dig up old WWII bombs under Tegel airport runway
A file photo of a museum full of old WWII munitions. Photo: DPA

Clean up crews will work to uncover old bombs and grenades at some 500 points, city development head Ingeborg Junge-Reyer told the paper.

The bomb recovery is part of the city’s work to adhere to the United Nation’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) requirements, which state that big planes like the Airbus A 330 – which land and take off at Tegel – need wider runways.

As the Berlin city government discussed the project, politicians called Tegel an “objectively dangerous situation” because of “live munitions near the ground surface” that could be detonated by vehicles, airplanes or “mowing and landscape work that digs into the ground,” the paper reported.

The head of Berlin’s civil underground engineering department Frieder Bühring told the paper that the “suspicion” of old munitions was not adequate for the city to undertake a preventative clean-up project, but that it was necessary to protect workers from potential explosions during the runway expansion. The chance of a bomb going off, however, is as likely as winning the lottery, he added.

More than 60 years after the end of World War II, weapons recovery remains an important task for police and private companies throughout Germany. Allied forces dropped more than 2.7 million tonnes of explosives across Germany during the war. Some of the ordnance did not explode and has become increasingly dangerous with time and corrosion.

Another major ordnance find cropped up on the Baltic Sea coast in September 2008 when municipal workers spotted a four-metre long (12-foot) piece of a World War II era torpedo near the Timmendorf beach.

Entire neighbourhoods are frequently evacuated for bomb removal, and most are defused without incident. Construction and road workers are trained to call emergency services the moment they suspect they’ve found unexploded ordnance, but accidents still occasionally happen.

People are periodically killed when they stumble upon old war explosives around the country. In 1994, three construction workers were killed and eight bystanders injured when an unexpected bomb detonated, tearing through nearby buildings and cars in Berlin. In 2006, a road worker was killed near Frankfurt when his excavator hit a bomb.