Explosive Relics: Berlin's Tegel to Clean up Wartime Bombs

Explosives left over from the Second World War lie under the tarmac at Tegel, Berlin's busiest air hub. This spring workers will start to dig up more than 500 sites to try to remove the last of a hazardous legacy.

It's no secret: Munitions dating from the Second World War are buried under the airfield at Tegel Airport and could pose a threat to planes veering off the runway. Berlin's Senator for Urban Development, Ingeborg Junge-Reyer said work on cleaning up the remaining grenades and bombs will start in the spring, the Berliner Morgenpost newspaper reported on Friday.

Explosive relics buried at Tegel, Berlin's historic Cold War era airport.
AFP

Explosive relics buried at Tegel, Berlin's historic Cold War era airport.

The excavation work is to bring the airport in line with standards from the United Nation's International Civil Aviation Organization. They stipulate that larger planes like the Airbus A 330, which already fly to Tegel, will need wider runways.

Bomb clearance work took place at Tegel in the 1960s and '70s, before building work to expand the small wartime airport. The new work would bring Tegel up to the relevant UN standards.

Senator Junge-Reyer declined to comment on the threat posed by the explosive relics. But an officially commissioned report cited in the press earlier this year described "live munitions near the ground surface" that could be detonated by vehicles, airplanes or "mowing and landscape work that digs into the earth." It called Tegel an "objectively dangerous situation."

Opposition politicans have criticized the belated governmental response, alledging a "cover up" and saying that safety should be the top priority for the bustling international airport. It is not clear whether the clean-up operation will affect air traffic.

But Manuela Damianakis, a spokeswoman for the Senate for Urban Development, told SPIEGEL ONLINE that the plans for Tegel were routine in a city where unexploded munitions dating from the war are frequently unearthed. "The process of digging up bombs is an ongoing operation in both this airport and Berlin as a whole. This is nothing new. If building work starts, it is standard for the area to be first checked for bombs," she said.

Frieder Bühring, who heads Berlin's civil underground engineering department, told the Berliner Morgenpost that the removal work was necessary to protect workers from potential explosions during the forthcoming runway expansion. But he estimated the chance of a bomb going off was as likely as winning the lottery.

Within Germany, the problem of unexploded bombs is far from rare. The country is still contaminated with bombs -- just a fraction of the more than 2.7 million tons of explosives dropped by Allied forces over Germany during the Second World War. Experts warn the hazardous relics are becoming increasingly unstable with age. Building sites across Germany routinely stumble upon old war explosives which are then safely transported to detonation sites, or, if they are too dangerous, have to be exploded or have the explosives removed.

Despite the latest clean-up plans, the long-term future of the Tegel Airport -- historic Cold War facility -- remains unclear. Berlin's air traffic is scheduled to relocate to a large new Berlin-Brandenburg International Airport (BBI) in 2011.

jas-- with newspaper reports

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