Berlin still waiting for a new airport and its first Apple Store

When it comes to new airports or new Apple Stores, Berlin is what the Germans call a “Katastrophe”!

Visible construction work on a new Apple Store on Berlin’s elegant shopping boulevard, the Kurfürstendamm, began in January 2011. Even before work began, several Apple blogs, both German and American, breathlessly announced the news: Berlin, the German capital, was at last going to get an official Apple Store! But with January 2013 only a week away, Berlin is still waiting for its first Apple Store to open.

On January 14, 2011, posted an article entitled Century-Old Building To House Berlin Apple Store. Complete with photos of the building, the article stated: “Almost 100 years after it was constructed along tree-lined Kurfürstendamm avenue in Berlin (Germany), the historic UFA Film-Bühne Wien cinema will regain some of its original glory when Apple opens a retail store inside the building by year’s end. According to the Web site, Apple has leased the building at #26 and is awaiting permit approvals to begin construction. The store will finally bring Apple to the capitol [sic] city, four years after the first Germany store opened in Munich.”

Not long after that, pictures of construction work on Kurfürstendamm (Ku’damm” for short) appeared on a German tech site. Reader comments expressed joy that, at last, Berlin would have an Apple Store.

Berlin Apple Store under construction

Berlin Apple Store under construction in summer 2012. PHOTO: H. Flippo

But as 2012 draws to an end, almost two years after the first announcements, the Ku’damm construction site is still just that: a not-very-busy construction site. Apple has taken down its online jobs reference to Berlin and replaced it with Hannover. As of this writing, Apple lists ten Apple Stores in Germany. While some cities in Germany now have more than one, there is not even one Apple Store in Berlin, a city of over three million people, the largest in Germany – and its capital!

The other, better-known Berlin construction disaster, namely the Flughafen Berlin Brandenburg “Willy Brandt” (IATA airport code “BER”), has had more delays than an Italian train. In fact, the initials BER have come to symbolize Berlin’s inability to run things well (the S-Bahn local rail system) or to complete public projects on time. Although the Apple Store is a private, commercial project, it seems to have caught the Berlin bug of endless delays and snafus.

I have experienced both of these disasters personally. When my wife and I booked our airline tickets from Nevada to Berlin in 2012, we (and Lufhansa) fully expected to land at Berlin’s new airport, scheduled to open on June 3, 2012. We were flying in July, so I thought that even if there were some delay in the airport’s debut, we would still land at BER – and not at TXL, Berlin’s aging, bursting-at-the-seams Tegel airport.

Wrong! Only weeks before BER’s scheduled opening there was an astounding and embarrassing announcement that the new airport could not open as planned. Our connecting Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt landed at TXL, not BER in July 2012. Tegel is not aging well. Smaller than most average-sized US airports, Tegel is struggling to keep up with the increased air traffic that post-Wall Berlin now attracts. The new BER airport is badly needed, and it was designed to replace Berlin’s two outmoded airports (Tegel and Schönefeld). Berlin’s historic Tempelhof (Berlin Airlift) airport closed at the end of October 2008. (See “Auf Wiedersehen, Tempelhof!“)

Construction on BER began in September 2006. Numerous problems caused the official opening date to be pushed back several times. But after almost six years of construction, the modern, new airport was to open its gates in June 2012. Now even that late inaugural date was being dumped in the trash. Soon a new opening date of March 17, 2013 was circulating, but in the fumbling blame game that followed, St. Patrick’s Day was soon eliminated as well. The current and “final” opening date is now October 27, 2013. But Berliners are not holding their breath for that one either.

The new airport is not only late, but far over budget: 4.2 billion euros ($5.5 billion) and counting, 1.7 billion (with a “b”!) euros above what was planned. Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit and Brandenburg governor (Ministerpräsident) Matthias Platzeck now have so much egg on their faces that you could make an omelet out of them – which many people would like to do! In most places, both politicians would have been forced out of office by now, but this is Berlin and Brandenburg, where things march to a different drummer than in most of Germany (and certainly in Bavaria, where they actually opened the new Munich airport on time and under budget in 1992).

When I was in Berlin (after landing at Tegel!) for two months in late summer of 2012, I fully expected to attend the grand opening of Berlin’s very first Apple Store. After all, by that time the remodeling project had been underway for almost 20 months, nearly two years. One day I went down to the Ku’damm and took a photo (above), hoping to see signs that the long-awaited store might be opening soon. But the only thing visible was a black construction wall. Even after I returned to the States in September, the Berlin Apple Store remained even more elusive than BER. I flew home from Tegel and never saw the Berlin Apple Store open. Will I ever? Will anyone? [UPDATE: The Berlin Apple Store finally opened in May 2013. The airport is another story.]

Unlike the airport, the Ku’damm Apple Store has never been seen. Even if we can’t use it, at least we can see the BER terminal and runways. Apple has never been forthcoming about its store openings, preferring to keep them literally under wraps until the last minute. In the case of the Berlin Apple Store, the California-based computer company has been even more obscure and secretive than usual. Apple got everyone’s hopes up by announcing job openings for the Berlin store online (in December 2011), only to mysteriously delete Berlin – without a word about why, or any hint of a future opening. Normally, Apple opens a store about six months after accepting job applicants. But June 2012 came and went without any sign of a Berlin store opening. Then a rumor of an opening in time for Christmas 2012 made the rounds. Nope. Deadline after deadline goes by, just like BER, but unlike BER Apple has never publicly announced an opening date. “Alles beim Alten.” (Nothing’s changed.)

So, with 2013 right around the corner, we are left to speculate. In November a German Mac blog [Macerkopf] mentioned that some employees hired for Berlin were being sent to fill in at other German Apple Stores for Christmas. Are there serious construction problems with the remodeling? Too expensive? Too much red tape? (The building is under landmark protection, which could add to the problems.) What could cause a two-year construction project to just vanish into thin air? How could Apple not have a single Apple Store in Germany’s largest city after opening ten other stores in that country? Some claim it’s because Berlin is not as prosperous as Hamburg, Munich, Cologne and other cities where Apple has stores. “Poor but sexy” is a slogan famously uttered by mayor Wowereit, but there’s plenty of money in Berlin. Has Apple given up on Berlin for some odd reason? It just doesn’t add up. Which will open first? BER or the Berlin Apple Store?

Perhaps there is less urgency in Berlin because of the existing Apple “Premium Resellers” there? Gravis has two stores in Berlin that sell a full line of Apple products. But since Gravis also has 28 other stores spread across Germany, that doesn’t seem to be a valid reason.

The first brick-and-mortar Apple Store in Germany opened in Munich in December 2008. (Logical, since Apple’s German headquarters are also in Munich.) Since then Apple has added nine more Apple Stores in Germany. Current Apple Store locations in Germany, as listed on Apple Germany’s website:

  • Augsburg, City-Galerie
  • Dresden, Altmarkt-Galerie
  • Frankfurt, Große Bockenheimer Straße
  • Hamburg, Alstertal
  • Hamburg, Jungfernstieg
  • Köln (Cologne), Rhein Center
  • München (Munich), Rosenstraße
  • Oberhausen, CentrO
  • Sindelfingen, Sindelfingen (Stuttgart area)
  • Sulzbach, MTZ (Frankfurt area)

Two stores in Hamburg, but none in Berlin? (Hamburg’s a large city, but smaller than Berlin.) Dresden? I’ve been to Dresden. It’s is a nice town (pop. 530,000), but it’s a tiny backwater compared to Berlin! Augsburg is even smaller, but it’s a university town. (But then so is Berlin!) Why would Apple have stores in Augsburg and Dresden, but not in Berlin? You could ask the same question about Hannover (German spelling, with two n’s), a northern German city of just over half a million souls (like Dresden). Hannover has a sixth of Berlin’s population, but Apple’s next retail store will be located there. Unless something unexpected happens, the Hannover Apple Store will be the eleventh to open in Germany – while Berlin still waits… and waits, and waits.

MORE: The iPhone in Germany (German Way)

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