This is a five-part documentary series about the disastrous building of Berlin’s new Brandenburg Airport. I just finished listening to it, and it was compulsive, gripping listening.
Construction started on BER in 2006, and it was planned to open in October 2010. It actually opened just a couple of months ago in October 2020. It was a decade late, missed no less than six opening dates, had three general managers and ended the careers of two state leaders. The original cost was budgeted at $1bn, and it finally cost something like £6bn. Ironically, when it finally opened, we were deep in pandemic/lockdown, and there were barely any flights or passengers around to use it. Chancellor Angela Merkel was scheduled to cut the ribbon.
At one point back in 2012, management were so deluded about the state of readiness that they believed they were only 26 days from opening. Retail stores were stocked with merchandise, restaurants were rehearsing menus and buying food, flight schedules had been changed and a 24-hour live TV broadcast was ready to roll to cover the move from two airports that were scheduled to close.
It’s a truly remarkable story of mismanagement, political interference, short-termism and, at points, fraud. There are endless business learnings in the story, and I am reminded of Margaret Heffernan’s work looking at Wilful Blindness and the inability of people to speak up and challenge decisions, or the unwillingness of people in power to listen to them.
The Wikipedia article for this airport is also a fascinating read, and this podcast is gold. Listen online with the link above or on Apple Podcasts.