Terminal 1-2 of the new Berlin Airport BER (photo © Boarding1now / dreamstime.com).
We thought it would never happen. You thought it would never happen. But it really looks as though Berlin’s much-delayed new airport is going to open to passengers on Saturday 31 October. Its IATA Code is BER. For many years, the airport-to-be was generally referred to as BBI, referencing Berlin-Brandenburg International. But, taking a cue from the allocated IATA Code, BER is the short-form name for the airport that's now enjoys popular currency.
In a little touch of aviation theatre, the debut arrivals – if all goes to plan – will be simultaneous landings by EasyJet and Lufthansa aircraft. Fortunately BER has two runways, and hopefully the pilots of the respective aircraft will have the good sense to each aim for a different runway.
It’s going to be a bit of a slow start for business at BER, with airlines shifting services to the new airport over the opening days of November. Most of Lufthansa’s flights won’t swap Tegel for BER until 7 November.
Tegel Airport will close on 7 or 8 November. Some news sources suggest that the final departure will be late on Saturday evening, while others indicate that the final flight won't be until the Sunday afternoon. With the closure of Tegel, that will leave BER as Berlin’s sole commercial airport.
But it’s not quite the end of the road for Schönefeld airport, the one-time main airport for East Berlin, which shares the same runways as BER. Schönefeld gets a modest reprieve, but is recast as BER Terminal 5. If air travel picks up post-COVID, that legacy facility at Schönefeld could be an important overflow terminal for BER.
Ryanair will be the main carrier still using Terminal 5. But Terminal 5 will also be the base for a number of smaller airlines, some of them exclusively charter carriers.
The closure of Tegel (TXL) has no real effect for rail travellers, as it never had a link to the rail network. The downgrading of Schönefeld (SXF) has more implications. It had its own dedicated station, one which is currently served by Intercity trains, a wide range of regional train services and Berlin’s distinctive claret-and-ochre local suburban trains (properly called the S-Bahn).
Schönefeld station will remain open, but from 31 October it will be served only by S-Bahn services. The last long-distance train from Schönefeld’s rather run-down platforms will be IC 2275 on the evening of Friday 30 October. It leaves at 21.00 for Dresden.
A brand-new BER station opens to serve the new BER airport. The station will be called Flughafen BER, and it opens fully on Saturday 31 October. There will be a limited S-Bahn service to the new station during the preceding week, but the real get-go for this new station is on the Saturday morning. The first scheduled Intercity departure from the new station will the IC 2274, which leaves at 07.05 from BER and runs to Warnemünde on Germany’s Baltic coast.
The key thing for passengers to remember is that most travellers to and from BER will need to use the new station, ie. Flughafen BER, which is sometimes rendered as Flughafen BER Terminals 1-2. These are two interlinked terminals and together they constitute the new-build section of BER. Terminal 1 (the main bit) opens for business at the end of October. But Terminal 2, which is smaller than Terminal 1, will remain mothballed for now.
It is only if a plane is arriving or leaving from the Schönefeld bit of the airport (now renamed BER Terminal 5) that you need to travel by S-Bahn to the old station, which is five minutes on foot from Terminal 5. Just in case you wonder, there is no Terminal 3 and no Terminal 4. Perhaps the message that the BER management want to convey is that Terminal 5 is a long, long way from the main bit of BER.
The best bet for passengers who find themselves at the wrong bit of the airport is the non-stop X7 bus link which for most of the day shuttles every five minutes from the bus stop bang outside the door of Terminal 5 to Terminals 1 and 2. There will also be a direct S-Bahn, running every 10 minutes for much of the day, from Schönefeld station direct to Flughafen BER Terminal 1-2.
The new BER station, which is underneath the terminals, has six platforms. Platforms 1 to 4 will be used by regional services and Intercity trains. They will also be used by the new Flughafen Express (FEX) services to Berlin Hauptbahnhof (Hbf) – that the city’s central station.
Platforms 5 and 6 will be used exclusively by S-Bahn trains.
Here’s the general pattern of service. There will be on average 14 departures each hour from the new BER station, made up (on average) of one Intercity train, seven regional trains (ie. RE, RB or FEX services) and six S-Bahn trains. For travellers heading from BER into the very middle of Berlin four regional trains each hour (prefixed FEX, RE or RB) will be the preferred choice.
There are three little details worth noting:
1. The IC trains serving Flughafen BER Terminal 1-2 will also be designated as Regional Express (RE17) services for journeys into Berlin Hbf, and also as far south as Elsterwerda in the Dresden direction. This dual identity (an Intercity which also has regional train number) makes them much cheaper, as local tickets will be valid on these trains. The Intercity tariff from BER to Berlin Hbf is €12.20, but the local tariff is a much more attractive €3.60.
2. The use of the new prefix FEX suggests that the half-hourly FEX trains into central Berlin are somehow special. It makes them sound as though they are some sort of premium service, perhaps like the Heathrow Express in London or the Leonardo Express in Rome. This is desperately misleading. They are just regular regional trains, using the same red rolling stock as you’ll find on the RE7 and RE22 services into Berlin from the airport. They are not express sevices. The travel time to the middle of Berlin is the same as on any other regional train.
3. A limited number of trains each weekday on the RB22 will continue beyond Potsdam Hbf to Berlin Wannsee and Berlin Hauptbahnhof. It’s the most roundabout way to reach Berlin city centre.
There’s scope for quite some confusion here with multiple options for passengers travelling from the new airport to the city centre Hauptbahnhof station. The good news is that the fare is identical whatever route you choose. The ticket you want is called a Berlin ABC Einzelkarte – it costs €3.60. It is valid on any train, even the smart Intercity service from BER to Hauptbahnhof.
The RE7, RE14 and FEX services all take between 30 and 35 minutes to reach Berlin Hauptbahnhof. The norm is 33 minutes.
The IC trains, though only every two hours, are the fastest, normally taking just 27 minutes for the run from BER to Hauptbahnhof. They make just one intermediate stop; that’s at Berlin Südkreuz. The real plus is scenery. These trains run through a delectable area of open meadows (around Diedersdorf) about five minutes after leaving BER. Rural Brandenburg at its best! The only other service from BER which use that line is the hourly RB22 train to Potsdam.
Of course, for those who cherish slow travel, the thrice-hourly S9 will get you from BER to Berlin Hauptbanhof in just under an hour. With so many stops along the way, it’s probably not the sanest choice.
Or, for a nicely slow but scenic ride, choose one of the handful of RE22 trains each weekday which continue beyond Potsdam into Berlin. They take 82 minutes from Flughafen BER Terminals 1-2 to reach Berlin Hauptbahhnof. It is a brilliant ride with fine views of the Diedersdorf meadows, the middle of Potsdam and even a glimpse of the Wannsee.