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Drab and outdated but beloved for its convenience and quirky hexagonal design, Berlin's Tegel airport will finally close for good on Sunday after more than 60 years.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2.5 million passengers a year but latterly receiving more than 20 million, Tegel had become overcrowded and woefully outdated — notorious in particular for its terrible toilets.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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Should Germany shorten Covid vaccine intervals to combat Delta?

A single vaccine dose has been shown to be largely ineffective against the Delta variant of Covid-19 - so German health experts are considering whether a shorter gap between the first and second dose is needed.

Should Germany shorten Covid vaccine intervals to combat Delta?
A sign directs people to the vaccination centre in Berlin's now-defunct Tegel Airport. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Soeren Stache

With the the proportion of Delta variant Covid cases rising in Germany, experts are currently mulling over a new strategy to combat it: shortening the intervals between the first and second dose of the vaccine.

The new approach is being considered in light of the fact that vaccinated people are likely to be protected highly infectious variant – but only if they have had all necessary doses of the vaccine. 

READ ALSO: Share of Delta variant Covid cases in Germany almost doubles in a week

“The question is not a trivial one,” Thomas Mertens, the head of the Standing Vaccination Commission (STIKO), told DPA.

According to the Ulm-based virologist, there are various pros and cons to shortening the gaps between doses.

“We are currently trying to secure the necessary evidence,” he added.

So far, Stiko has been recommending longer intervals between the two vaccinations than the intervals stipulated by regulators when the vaccines were approved. 

There are good reasons for this: with AstraZeneca, for example, evidence suggests that the longer you wait between vaccines, the better immunity you have.

With limited doses of vaccines available – and ongoing supply issues – there is also an argument for providing as many people as possible with the first dose, so that as many people as possible are at least partly protected against the virus.

READ ALSO: ‘Vaccinate quickly’: German states seeing surge in Delta variant Covid cases

For AstraZeneca, the previous advice from the panel of experts at Stiko is to allow twelve weeks to elapse between the first and second dose. For the mRNA vaccines – Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna – the recommended interval is six weeks.

According to the pharmaceutical regulators, however, a faster course would be possible: two BioNTech doses three weeks apart, with Moderna and AstraZeneca given four weeks apart.

In the case of the AstraZeneca vector vaccine, according to the Health Ministry, those wishing to be vaccinated are free to agree the interval individually with doctors within the permitted period of four to twelve weeks.

“A certain distance improves the effectiveness of the vaccine”

Helge Braun (CDU), Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff, told the Morgenmagazin on Thursday that the government’s main challenge was to offer all over-12s at the least one dose of the vaccine by the end of summer.

READ ALSO: ‘This can be a good summer’: Half of Germans vaccinated at least once against Covid

Regarding the timing of the second dose, the main concern should be effectiveness, he said.

“We just know that a certain distance improves the effectiveness of the vaccination,” he told reporters. 

When pressed on whether shortening the intervals between doses was the advice of the hour, Braun said it wasn’t.

On Twitter, German immunologist Carsten Watzl pointed out that, while cases of Delta were rising as a proportion of infections due to falling infection rates overall, the actual number of infections with Delta was still stable – and may even be declining. 

This means that the longer, 12-week interval for AstraZeneca vaccinations could be still be used as long as people were fully vaccinated by autumn, he said. 

The virologist Christian Drosten has been pointing out for a long time that the first jab is not particularly effective against Delta. 

This is also the view of Watzl, who would like to see the majority of people fully protected in time for a potential fourth wave of the virus. 

“The second vaccination is urgently needed in order to be able to properly ward off the mutations,” he said in a recent interview with the German Press Agency.

“Shortening the current vaccination intervals, especially of BioNTech, of course makes sense in order to achieve complete inoculation as quickly as possible,” said the chief executive of the National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians, Andreas Gassen, on Wednesday.

“The maximum vaccine interval for BioNTech is only justified by the lack of vaccines.”

In Germany, increased shares of the Delta variant, first discovered in India, are now being recorded.

However, the number of cases caused by the mutation has only increased relatively slightly so far, while the trend for infections caused by the still dominant Alpha variant is declining more sharply.

In the future, it is expected that Delta will overtake Alpha as the dominant variant of Covid-19 in Germany.