To me Berlin is very marmite. You either love it or hate it. Not much in between.
And what shall I say… I don’t love marmite….
Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying I hate Berlin. Not really. But it would not make it into my top five of cities (hey here’s an idea for a new blog post… stay tuned). Nor would it be my first (second or third) choice of places to live in Germany.
But I am always up for the odd weekend or visit (unlike marmite… that I do loath at all times).
But what gets me every single time is the devastating state of the airports in Berlin.
For work I regularly fly in or out of Berlin, especially when I need to get to the eastern parts of Germany (since there aren’t any direct flight to Dresden or Leipzig from London). I don’t always get a night in Berlin out of it (and if I do, it might just go horrible wrong), but I do get to spend quite a bit of time at the airport.
Obviously once the fabulous new Berlin-Brandenburg airport finally opens its doors all will be perfect and wonderful (or maybe not, but that’s a different story. For now actually getting that airport finished and opened seems difficult enough, so let’s not worry about BER just yet)
Which leaves Berlin with two airports:
Berlin Tegel (TXL) and Berlin Schoenefeld (SXF)
So… which airport is the best for Berlin?
If you ask me, both are well past their sell by date and have been at breaking point for quite some time now.
Berlin Tegel is located to the north west of Berlin. It is not directly connected with Berlin via train or underground, but you can catch an airport bus (the TXL bus) from Hauptbahnhof (main train station). It takes around 20 minutes to get there from the train station and costs 2.80 Euros. Fairly cheap and easy really.
Tegel is the airport serving the main airlines like Lufthansa and British Airways.
It has a bit of a weird layout, a hexagon shaped building with the flight gates around the outside… resulting in endless walks (not sure about you but I for sure will always end up walking it the wrong way round and completing almost a full circle before reaching my gate) and separate security checks for every gate rather than one or two large security areas for all gates at once.
If you have some time to kill, there are a couple of restaurant and fast food places, as well as a Starbucks… but no real culinary highlights. Plus a few smaller retail units to browse.
There are also some airline lounges, but unlike at most airports, these are actually located land side, not air side after security.
Once you go through security the offer gets even worse. You have a small duty free shop, a newsagent (selling some sweets and snacks), a coffee shop (with some sandwiches and snacks at rather high prices) and that’s pretty much it. Not much to offer and not much to do. So just trust me when I recommend you stay land side for as long as you possibly can.
Unless you have access to the lounges, Starbucks is pretty much the only place enabling you to get some work done (and most importantly get that laptop charged before the flight)… unless you fancy sitting somewhere in the middle of a hall way, high jacking the cleaner’s socket (been there, done that, won’t recommend).
Schoenefeld airport is located to the south east of Berlin (it is actually sharing an airfield with the yet to be finished and opened BER airport), so ideal for any travel towards Cottbus, Dresden and the vicinity, as it means you don’t have to cross town along your journey.
However it mainly serves the low cost airlines. So the decision which airport you choose will ultimately result in the question which airline you fancy. Or vice versa… your choice of airline dictates your airport destination.
So travelling from London, the choice is British Airways from Heathrow or City to Tegel or Ryanair from Stansted to Schoenefeld.
Unlike Tegel Schoenefeld has a train connection into town and you can either catch a direct train from the main station to the airport, which runs twice an hour and takes around 35 minutes or you can take the S-Bahn (tram). Depending on where you start in Berlin travel time obviously varies and you might have to change in between.
Schoenefeld has not much to offer. There is a bakery outside the terminal (which offers a decent selection of baked goods and the odd sausage, but hardly any seats, so it is more grab and go). There are a couple of coffee spots inside the terminal (although pretty much all part of the same chain – Mövenpick Marché – with the same snacks on offer) and the odd newsagent. But no retail really.
Whilst you are able to get a half decent seat to work during your wait, finding a socket seems to be near impossible. At least finding a working one.
If you are flying Ryanair, chances are you depart from area D, but whilst they have central security areas, brace yourself for some wait time, as it seems to be busy at all times (or maybe this is just my luck?)
Once air side you have the usual duty free and newsagent, a Berlin souvenir shop plus a couple of fast food places (although at first glance most if them are hidden in a different part of the building and you will only find them once you start walking towards your gate)
Go towards the higher gate numbers (50s/60s) and you will get to (yet another) Marché restaurant, pretty much the only one that offers decent work tables with working sockets.
Boarding flights here feels a little like herding cattle. The walkways are fairly narrow and with a passport control in front of each gate (talking of non-Schengen flights here obviously, if you have a Schengen flight I assume you will depart from a different gate area) you might end up with a long queue in front of your gate and the queue for the next gate right next to you. Very confusing and quite time consuming.
If you do get to the gate early, you might manage to get ahead of the queue, only to then spend more time in a tiny waiting room that gradually fills up like a tube during Monday morning rush hour. So total win win really.
What are your experiences with Berlin’s airports? Tell me the good, the bad, the ugly.