The terminal building is illuminated at the new airport BER in Schoenefeld, Brandenburg, Germany.(Photo: EPA)
BERLIN — With its shimmering glass-and-steel exterior, the nearly finished Berlin-Brandenburg International Airport at first glance looks like a monument to German design.
But the industrial artistry belies myriad technical disasters, including faulty fire alarms and poorly laid foundations, that have delayed the airport's opening by almost three years, doubled its initial budget of $3.4 billion and saw Berlin's longtime mayor resign over the debacle.
At the same time, the airport — which may open as late as 2019, if ever — has also cast doubt on whether Berlin shares the much-vaunted traits of productivity and efficiency that has made Germany the economic engine of Europe as well as the world's fourth-largest economy.
"For a nation that the rest of world has stereotyped as hyper-efficient, it is pretty astounding that the capital bungled an airport, " said Hilda Hoy, founder of the popular Berlin-blog ThenWeTakeBerlin. "The laissez-faire, permissive culture of the city has something to do with this. Sometimes I wonder if the low cost of living and the leisurely lifestyle that pervades (Berlin) has made people go a little soft."
Since German reunification in 1990, Berlin has developed into one of Europe's hippest and most creative cities. It is home to cutting-edge technology start-ups and hordes of expatriates who come for its freewheeling vibe. Relatively affordable and uncongested for a capital city, Berlin is a place where start-ups rarely grow into large companies and slackers spend years sipping beers, delaying careers and bemoaning gentrification.
At the same time, Berlin is growing quickly. Each year, 45, 000 people move to the city of some 3.5 million, city officials estimate. The influx has not sparked significant economic growth, however. Employment stands at more than 11%, nearly double the national rate.
Some blame this state of affairs on Berlin's biggest industry: government.
"The Berlin political and administrative culture is anything but dynamic, " said Berlin-based political analyst Andreas Beckmann. "There is a general culture here that is susceptible to this particular kind of disaster. It is slower and much more bloated than in other parts of Germany."
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