The Name Game What Should Berlin Call Its Airport?

Einstein, Dietrich, Willy Brandt or von Stauffenberg? The answer is sure to be political -- but one problem with German names is that they don't fly in the rest of the world.

One day we'll all have airports: John F. Kennedy, Willy Brandt, and then-German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, left to right, Berlin 1963.

One day we'll all have airports: John F. Kennedy, Willy Brandt, and then-German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, left to right, Berlin 1963.

Berlin's first major international airport may be far from finished -- opening day is at least four years off -- but politicians have already started squabbling over its name. Should it be the Albert Einstein Airport? Marlene-Dietrich International? Or something to do with Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg, the Nazi officer who led a failed plot to assassinate Hitler in 1944?

A Social Democrat in the Berlin state legislature kicked off the debate by suggesting Willy Brandt for the honor. Brandt was a mayor of West Berlin who went on to be West German chancellor in the early 1970s, during the détente or thawed phase of the Cold War. He won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1971 for his policies during détente.

At a memorial celebration for Brandt on Wednesday in Berlin, lawmaker Michael Müller said naming the airport after Brandt would be appropriate because Brandt was associated with Berlin but had an international profile.

Of course, he was also a Social Democrat, like Müller himself. Rivals from the Christian Democrats lost no time suggesting other names, like Einstein, Dietrich and von Stauffenberg.

Naming Names

Berlin has three smallish airports at the moment, a legacy of the Cold War. The Communist-built one in Schönefeld -- which is further outside the city than the others -- will be expanded into a modern international facility by fall 2011 at the earliest. (The date may be delayed, again.) It already has a working title: Berlin-Brandenburg International. But it doesn't have a name name.

Cities have named airports after politicians since at least 1947, when New York renamed its "North Beach Airport" after Fiorello LaGuardia, the mayor who championed its construction. New York's other airport, Idlewild, became "John F. Kennedy" in 1963, after the US president was assassinated. In the meantime some cities have branched out into artists like John Lennon (Liverpool) or Frederic Chopin (Warsaw), or even soccer players like George Best (Belfast City).

One Berlin paper, Die Tageszeitung, has suggested christening the new airport "Bertolt Brecht International" -- not because Berlin's most famous playwright was so fond of air travel but because his name wouldn't change the initials (BBI).

On some level, though, it doesn't matter. Even the Social Democrats who recommended Willy Brandt for the honor recognize that almost no one in the world refers to the Cologne/Bonn Airport by its other eminent name: "Konrad Adenauer."



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