In 2007, Leinemann's client Hochtief calculated that the many special requests would drive the total cost up to more than 1 billion. Competitors submitted bids for similar amounts. Experts later confirmed that the project couldn't be done for less, and today it is clear that the estimates were fairly realistic, with the current cost of building the terminal coming in at about 1.2 billion. But officials in Berlin and Potsdam, the Brandenburg state capital, insist that the costs would have been higher if a construction company had been put in charge. They attribute the cost increase to the fact that the project is bigger than first envisioned, and that fire safety regulations have become stricter.
Wowereit was determined to do it himself, and to do it more cheaply, at that. The terminal was not to cost more than 630 million, he decreed at the time. He insisted that a workable terminal could easily be built for that amount, saying: "There is no need to change the financial concept."
Instead of hiring a general contractor, Wowereit's team at the Flughafengesellschaft took control of the project. This was intended to save money, promote the local construction industry and keep the project on schedule.
Valuable time was lost. New plans had to be drawn up and invitations to bid had to be prepared. The main construction contracts were only awarded in early 2009, and yet the airport was supposed to open in October 2011, shortly after the election to the Berlin state parliament. "Everyone in the industry knew that it was destined to fail," says Leinemann.
The mood in the supervisory board fluctuated between euphoria and anxiety. None of the members had any experience with such large construction projects. Wowereit and his fellow board members seemed to be flying blind toward their ultimate goal.
Whereas managers with experience in finance, aviation, technology and construction run the operations at airports in Frankfurt, Hamburg and Düsseldorf, the billion-plus-euro Schönefeld project is almost exclusively in the hands of politicians, civil servants and union officials.
The relatively inexperienced supervisory board members pursued their own agendas, which sometimes had very little to do with the complex issues of construction management.
The Name Game
The politicians seemed more interested in passionate debates over what to name the new airport. Albert Einstein, Marlene Dietrich and Helmut Kohl were mentioned as possible names. With Wowereit's and Platzeck's support in the supervisory board, the name Willy Brandt -- a former mayor of Berlin and chancellor of West Germany -- eventually won out.
The board also devoted considerable attention to the question of whether and where a two-story jetway for the Airbus A380 was to be built. Just before construction was slated to begin, the board decided to move the costly jetway from the main terminal, where all airlines can dock, to the Air Berlin departure area -- a decision that required expensive and time-consuming scheduling changes.
A levelheaded look at the numbers and strict supervision of management was not always in evidence. In 2009, when the financial crisis dealt a blow to the budget, the federal government pushed for the appointment of a chief financial officer, but Wowereit rejected the idea.
Perhaps he was trying not to jeopardize the good relationship he had developed with Rainer Schwarz, who was hired as managing director in 2005. According to one observer, Wowereit and Schwarz had "a relationship like that of a master and his dog." Schwarz was apparently loath to contradict Wowereit when the mayor set targets for the construction project. "We cannot and will not rest," the supervisory board chairman stressed again and again.
By instituting efficiency programs, cost-cutting packages and time-saving measures, Schwarz and his co-managing director Manfred Körtgen did what they could to remain on schedule and not exceed the budget. Four times a year, they provided the supervisory board with a progress report in the form of a slide presentation.
Wowereit and his fellow board members relied on these reports. For a long time, they developed no real sense for critical details, technical problems or conspicuously optimistic timetables and cost estimates. In short, they behaved like an individual who builds a home, blindly trusts his workers and, in the end, is shocked to see that the walls aren't straight.
Making the Impossible Possible
His spokesman Richard Meng begs to differ, saying that Wowereit always dealt with all of the important issues related to the airport, both within and outside of supervisory board meetings. According to Meng, Wowereit regularly discussed financial, technical and scheduling issues with the relevant experts. He said that the mayor's relationship with airport management was in keeping with the normal conventions between a supervisory board chairman and managing directors. That is, the former supervises while the latter manages day-to-day operations.
By June 2010, Wowereit and the other supervisory board members realized that there were serious problems. Schwarz and Körtgen presented a bleak situation to the board. Construction in Schönefeld was several months behind schedule, allegedly because plans were missing, incorrect or incomplete. Wowereit's dream of scoring points in the 2011 state election with his new, major international airport had gone up in smoke. For better or worse, he approved a new opening date of June 2012.
By that time, the mayor had been forewarned. He should have drawn the conclusion to hire different managers. But the supervisory board stuck to the old team, fearing that replacing it would only lead to further delays.
Instead, Wowereit and Platzeck publicly gave the impression that there were no problems. The mayor and the governor proudly devoted themselves to the subject of art at the new airport. On Sept. 17, 2010, they unveiled three works of art for the terminal, under the motto "The Contrast Between Land and the Air."
One of the pieces was a giant, flashing chain of glass beads, which is to surround the two-story jetway for A380 jets. His work was inspired by the "Starship Enterprise," explained the artist, Olaf Nicolai, saying that the gadgetry in the film had "a hobby-like character, and yet it made the impossible possible. I like that."
Making the impossible possible -- now that was something the supervisory board liked to hear. This art, Wowereit raved, would "eminently reflect Berlin's creativity." Platzeck even said that he detected a "special way of examining reality."
At about the same time, Peter Danckert was coming to grips with the special reality at the airport. Danckert is a member of the German parliament, the Bundestag, for the SPD. His district includes the airport site in Schönefeld. Danckert has been keeping an eye on the project since 1998, when he was first elected to the Bundestag.
After initially criticizing the choice of Schönefeld as the location for the new airport, he then turned his attention to conditions on the construction site.
In August 2010, Danckert made a trip to Potsdam. His goal was to sound the alarm and warn Platzeck's advisors against unpleasant surprises.
Danckert had brought along a well-known civil engineer who had already managed several large infrastructure projects and had now studied the planning process for the new airport. His verdict was devastating. Thousands of plans were lying around in disorganized fashion in the offices, the engineer reported, and there was a great deal of confusion on the construction site.
According to the engineer, it would take months to establish order. "You have to tell Matthias about the chaos," Danckert said to Platzeck's airport expert.
Danckert, feeling that his warning was not being taken seriously, gave a newspaper interview in mid-October 2010. "I assume that there will be more significant delays, as well as additional financial burdens that will not be insubstantial," he told the B.Z., a Berlin daily.
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