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Political dog fight in Berlin over airport

BERLIN

Berlin’s scandal plagued BER airport project, now delayed five years with no opening date in sight, has become the laughing stock of Germany, but things are about to get more complicated.

As the $7.2 billion white elephant sits empty, marred by cascading technical problems, momentum is building to keep open the smaller Tegel airport it is meant to replace.

A relic of Berlin’s Cold War division, Tegel, or TXL, with its 1970s-era hexagonal terminal complex, has seen better days, but is popular for its convenient location in the city’s northwest.

Now an initiative to “Save Tegel” has sparked a bitter political dog fight, pitting fans of the city airport against some 300,000 residents who dream of a life without the roar of passenger jets above.

Berliners will be asked to vote in a referendum on September 24, national election day, on whether to overturn the long-scheduled closure of Tegel — and polls indicate the initiative could succeed.

Planes would keep flying to and from the area which the city-state of Berlin has designated as the site of thousands of new flats, a science university and a business start-up hub.

It is a prospect dreaded by local resident Elke Steinel, 46, who has a front-row view of dozens of take-offs and landings a day from her house in Berlin’s northern Pankow district.

“I wake up at 6am, no matter when, from Monday to Sunday,” said the kindergarten director and mother-of-three. “I don’t need an alarm.”

The noise pollution was the price her family was willing to pay — for a time — when they bought the house in 2010, two years before Tegel’s scheduled closure.

If Tegel stays open, she said, her family will move away.

Much has changed since 2010 — BER has become Germany’s most notorious planning disaster and a symbol for grand-scale mismanagement.

Agence France-Presse