Berlin airport delay damages mayor, embarrasses Germany

Mon Jan 7, 2013 11:54am EST
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By Erik Kirschbaum

BERLIN (Reuters) - Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit stepped down on Monday as head of a board overseeing the building of the city's new international airport after yet another delay in the project dealt a fresh blow to Germany's reputation for efficiency.

Wowereit, a focal point of criticism due to delays in opening the 4.3-billion-euro ($5.6 billion) airport, bowed to the pressure and gave up the supervisory board chair to Brandenburg state Premier Matthias Platzeck. The airport is jointly owned by Berlin, Brandenburg and the federal government.

But Wowereit told a news conference he would not resign as mayor, despite calls for him to step down, due to the debacle over Willy Brandt International Airport, which was originally planned to open in 2008.

Already 20 years in the planning when construction began in 2006, the airport was then set to open in 2011. That was pushed back to June 2012, then to March 2013, then to October 2013 and now to some point after 2014.

"I'm going to be guarded about picking a date now," Wowereit said. "That it would be difficult to meet the target we had for this year was already known up and down the country."

The delays, caused mainly by problems with the fire-safety system, have turned the airport and its city into a nationwide butt of jokes. Authorities fear the latest hold-up could harm the global reputation of German engineering.

Tegel airport - one of three in the German capital that Willy Brandt International is meant to replace - was built in just 90 days during the Cold War.

Sixty years after that feat, the protracted struggle to open the new airport has exposed the inefficiencies of a country weighed down by regulations and layers of bureaucracy.   Continued...

A car drives to the construction site of the future Berlin Brandenburg international airport Willy Brandt (BER) in Schoenefeld, January 7, 2013. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch