• Germany's news in English

Top manager faces himself in court

Hannah Cleaver · 16 Jan 2014, 14:40

Published: 16 Jan 2014 14:40 GMT+01:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Sadly there is little likelihood of Mehdorn running from one side of the courtroom to another, to defend Berlin’s long-delayed international airport, BER, and then lead the attack for Air Berlin, although with his reputation for tough talking such a spectacle would be highly entertaining.

The arguments are all being made by lawyers, as Air Berlin sues BER for damages connected with the still-delayed opening, which the airline says has cost it €48 million.

Mehdorn is not expected to be in court at all.

A biography in the business magazine Wirtschaftswoche says Mehdorn was born to German parents in Poland in 1942, but the family soon moved to Berlin and then Bavaria, where his father founded a plastics factory in 1948.

He studied machine engineering in Berlin in the early 1960s. He married a French woman Héléne in 1973, with whom he has three children. His career was largely aircraft-focused, including a five-year stint on the board of the Airbus Holding. 

Mehdorn first rose to international prominence when in 1999 he was appointed head of the board of Deutsche Bahn, with the mission to prepare the colossus for partial privatization.

The no-nonsense manager went about significantly reducing the workforce, cutting tens of thousands of jobs and slashing expenditure.

But as the global recession hit in 2008 and melted what little public and political support for the privatization there had been, the idea was abandoned, leaving a much slimmer Bahn arguably struggling to cope.

Mehdorn's departure in the following year was sparked by a surveillance scandal at Deutsche Bahn which covered more than half its staff between 2002 and 2003. He and four other board members stepped down in the wake of the outrage.

Since the failed privatization and his departure, the emphasis has been on recruiting again, with 10,000 new jobs scheduled for last year.

Mehdorn's name is still invoked when problems connected with low staffing or reduced investment arise - such as last year's crisis at Mainz station which was closed due to lack of signalling staff.

A couple of years after leaving the Bahn, Mehdorn joined Air Berlin, an airline founded by his friend Joachim Hunold, as temporary CEO.

He initiated what many regarded as a severe savings programme and got spending under control at the struggling airline - but provoked strikes by pilots dismayed at poor pay.

Despite initially promising to stay for at least 18 months, he left in January 2013 after just 16 months, and two months after that, took over the reins of BER, the hugely troubled Berlin airport.

His determination, optimism and intractable nature was perfectly illustrated in an interview with Der Spiegel magazine last June. When asked about a report suggesting there were tens of thousands of problems with the airport, he said most of them were unimportant and could be fixed easily.

And when questioned about whether the notoriously problematic smoke and fire detection systems, largely blamed for the airport's delay, left people at risk of burning or suffocating, he said: "The danger of drowning is greater. The sprinkler system has been extensively fitted. Whoever lights just a cigarette will be completely soaked."

When passengers will get the chance to test this promise remains almost completely open, with a date for BER's operating start still undecided.

READ MORE: Berlin airport's 2014 opening delayed again

For more news from Germany, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Hannah Cleaver (hannah.cleaver@thelocal.de)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
These are Germany's top ten universities
The new library of Freiburg University. Photo: Jörgens.mi / Wikimedia Commons

These are the best universities in all of Germany - at least according to one ranking.

Introducing Swabians - 'the Scots of Germany'
Photo: DPA

These Southern Germans have quite a reputation in the rest of the country.

Woman sues dentist over job rejection for headscarf
Photo: DPA

A dentist in Stuttgart is being taken to court by a woman whom he rejected for a job as his assistant on the basis that she wears a Muslim headscarf.

Isis suspect charged with scouting Berlin attack sites
Photo: DPA

German federal prosecutors said Thursday they had brought charges against a 19-year-old Syrian man accused of having scouted targets in Berlin for a potential attack by the Isis terror group.

Berlin Holocaust memorial could not be built now: creator
The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, in Berlin. Photo: DPA.

The architect of the Berlin Holocaust memorial has said that, if he tried to build the monument again today, it would not be possible due to rising xenophobia and anti-Semitism in Germany and the United States.

'Liberal' Germany stopping Europe's 'slide into barbarism'
Ian Kershaw. Photo: DPA

Europe is not slipping into the same dark tunnel of hate and nationalism that it did in the 1930s - mainly thanks to Germany - one of the continent's leading historians has said.

Eurowings strike to hit 40,000 passengers
Travelers impacted by the strike on Thursday wait at Cologne Bonn airport. Photo: DPA.

The day-long strike by a Eurowings cabin crew union is expected to impact some 40,000 passengers on Thursday as hundreds of flights have been cancelled.

Deutsche Bank reports surprise quarter billion profit
Photo: DPA

Troubled German lender Deutsche Bank reported Thursday a surprise €256-million profit in the third quarter, compared with a loss of more than six billion in the same period last year.

US 'warned Merkel' against Chinese takeover of tech firm
Aixtron HQ. Photo: DPA

The German government withdrew its approval for a Chinese firm to purchase Aixtron, which makes semiconductor equipment, after the US secret services raised security concerns, a German media report said Wednesday.

Long-vanished German car brand joins electric race
Photo: DPA

Cars bearing the stamp of once-defunct manufacturer Borgward will once again roll off an assembly line in north Germany from 2018, the firm said Wednesday.

10 German clichés that foreigners get very wrong
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
10 ways German completely messes up your English
Germany's 10 most weird and wonderful landmarks
10 things you never knew about socialist East Germany
How Germans fell in love with America's favourite squash
How I ditched London for Berlin and became a published author
12 clever German idioms that'll make you sound like a pro
23 fascinating facts you never knew about Berlin
9 unmissable events to check out in Germany this October
10 things you never knew about German reunification
10 things you're sure to notice after an Oktoberfest visit
Germany's 10 most Instagram-able places
15 pics that prove Germany is absolutely enchanting in autumn
10 German films you have to watch before you die
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd