15 April 2007

Bovine Doldrums


Sick Buildings

My deep and heartfelt contempt for Berlin’s Schönefeld Airport is actually unfair because the airport itself isn’t all that bad: it’s just a shed. The real focus for my anguish and dispair is its railway station, the second architectural situation one encounters when returning to Berlin from a trip abroad.

Rumps on ramps

The architecture is bovine. It is made for cattle, not for humans. In fact, I couldn’t imagine a better railway station designed for cattle. Ramps, a sign of well meant ‘accesibility’ issues in contemporary architecture, are the dominant architectural motif. Long concrete runways at each platform are set at steady angles with enough width for the largest of heards.


Access to trains for the disabled is managed by devices such as the one pictured above (on the left). It’s resemblance to a cattle chute (on the right) in which cows are stunned is uncanny and frankly, disturbing.

The express waiting room with cunningly positioned bin

Budget air travel is often coupled with late arrivals and departures. The more obscure the hour, the cheaper the flight. A nighttime arrival at Schönefeld, such as mine last Wednesday, can be a depressing and disorientating experience; more so for the 6 million passengers who arrive here each year.

The Airport Express train connecting Schönefeld to the city center arrived 25 minutes late. Its approach was accompanied by a garbled message announced over ancient tannoys in German only. Further confusion was ensured by the train’s own signage: the destination displayed prominently on the nose was the town of Nauen in Brandenburg (population 10,253) rather than the capital city of Germany, where, arguably, most tourists arriving at Schönefeld are travelling to.

Non German speakers arriving here at night can basically forget it. I encourage them to invest in the 40 minute taxi ride into town. But the fact is, at 10pm on a Wednesday night on platform 3, there aren’t many non German speakers anyway, just hardened Berliners like myself resigned to the seedy fuck-off-and-die atmosphere and complete absence of useful information. Any tourist who has managed to find the right platform for the Airport Express has done so purely by accident, as the electronic signage in the subteranean tunnel below the platforms can attest:

Welcome to the captial of Germany!

Schönefeld Airport is currently being rebuilt, and will open for business at the end of 2011.