Germany twice humiliated itself badly this week, at least when it comes to airports. Once upon a time Germany was renowned for its ruthless efficiency, but those days seem gone forever at least when the government is involved.
Humiliation number one. Der Spiegel headlines: "Volkan the Intruder: Man in Underpants Partied in Merkel's Jet"
In the annals of Germany's security services, the following event won't be recorded as their finest hour.
On the night of July 25, a 24-year-old man clutching a bag full of marijuana and ecstasy pills managed with relative ease to get on board an empty government jet used frequently by Chancellor Angela Merkel, while it was parked at a closed military section of the Cologne airport.
The man, a bodybuilder of Turkish descent named as Volkan T., proceeded to stage a raucous, one-man party. Reports said he stripped down to his underpants, sprayed fire extinguisher foam around the elegant cream and beige interior, pushed buttons in the cockpit, released an inflatable emergency slide and danced on the wing of the Airbus 319. (snip)
It began when he drove from his home in Cologne to the airport and got past a guard post by saying he had been invited to a wedding reception being held in the nearby officers' quarters. He then climbed a barbed wire fence, walked across the tarmac, clambered onto the plane's left wing and got in through an open emergency exit.
While playing with the cockpit buttons, he inadvertently triggered an alarm that was logged by military personnel at 8:40 p.m. But the man wasn't arrested until 12:23 a.m. when a police dog bit him in the leg.
While all this was happening, Merkel was hundreds of kilometers away, watching the opera "The Flying Dutchman" at the opening of the annual Wagner opera festival in the Bavarian town of Bayreuth.
At 9:54 p.m., the army heightened its alert level from three to one, its highest. The military police didn't arrive until 10:16 p.m., when the aircraft was surrounded but no one ventured inside. At 11:23 p.m., steps were rolled up to the aircraft and a police officer using a megaphone began urging the man to come out. He didn't.
Finally, at 12:16 a.m., dogs arrived to deal with the situation. Seven minutes later, Volkan T. was arrested, slightly injured from two bites to the leg. He has been detained in a secure psychiatric hospital ever since.
Not too reassuring. Frau Merkel can't be very happy. The Flying Dutchman irony is just too funny.
The week also saw a public works fiasco in Germany become all the more evident. Berlin's new airport is being built next to the old East Berlin Airport Schoenefeld, with new runways, taxiways, and terminal, but utilizing the old runaway already in place, too. In this picture, you can see both the old terminal and runway, to the right, and the new complex.
If the airport looks pretty finished to you, that's because it is. Jens Flottau of Aviation Week writes about the inability of the government to open a facility that was substantially completed more than a year ago:
Berlin airport operator Flughafen Berlin Brandenburg again appears to be delaying the opening date for the new Berlin Brandenburg International Airport (BBI).
The opening of Berlin Brandenburg has been delayed four times-with the last suspension, in spring 2012, announced just weeks before airport was scheduled to launch operations-but in July CEO Hartmut Mehdorn said he would detail an opening schedule in October. However, Mehdorn now is telling local media that he will announce a date within the next two to three months, or perhaps even later. "We are not under pressure to perform," he says.
Under the latest plan, Mehdorn plans an advance opening of the north pier of the new terminal, for a maximum of 10 daily flights. He hopes that this will help to test the facility before operations are fully ramped-up. But, even that move requires significant investment, as the pier has no security checkpoints and no check-in facilities.
The decision also is subject to regulatory approvals, which may prove to be problematic. If these are granted, the building could be in operation starting around spring 2014.
The major difficulties keeping the airport from opening focus on the fire protection system. But obviously, other facilities also have not been fully constructed.
Meanwhile, Berlin is served via Tegel Airport, a ridiculously small and overcrowded facility and by Schoenefeld, whose aging facilities bear testament to its Eastern bloc origins.
Brandenburg Airport (actually, named after Willy Braun, former mayor of Berlin and Chancellor of Germany) was intended to provide something worthy of the capital of a united Germany. Instead it has turned into a monument to bureaucratic incompetence or worse. But given what can happen when the Germans use their ruthless efficiency, maybe a little comic relief isn't so bad. Meanwhile Berliners will just have to change planes in Frankfurt or Munich to go to the more exotic destinations.
photo credits: Wikipedia