#128: Gas cash, BVG worms, car-free Hackescher Markt
Tschüss forever, Schönefeld
A few weeks ago, I took the X7 bus from BER airport to the southern terminus of the U7 in Rudow. The bus trundled through the airport hinterlands, wove its way along serpentine service roads, passing faceless warehouses and office parks. It stopped at “BER Terminal 5” aka the old Flughafen Schönefeld. Nobody got on or off the bus. The car park was a barren wasteland. Not a single human being was in sight. A ghost airport.
Last week it became official: “T5” will be shuttered permanently. For a while, EasyJet wanted to have the old Schönefeld all to itself, even after BER opened. But with annual operating costs of €25m just to keep the lights on, it wasn’t considered worth it at the end of the day.
Twenty years ago, before the onslaught of budget airlines, Schönefeld still possessed a touch of Cold War mystique, before the building’s sober socialist modernism was drowned out by gawdy orange banners, shed-like additions and a Burger King. In its final years it was hopelessly overcrowded, with passengers forced to sit on the floor as they waited to board their flights.
As the bus circled the empty parking lot, I felt a surge of nostalgia for the pre-Easyjet Schönefeld — and for the old just-after-the-Wall Berlin.
The last of the city’s three Cold War airports is now history.
More nostalgia swept over me last night when I came across the Berlin episode of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown series. It’s from 2018 but the city depicted there was so very different: a romanticised, shadowy metropolis where everyone’s an uncompromising, independent artist or free spirit. Bourdain (RIP) also hangs out with one of my favourite musicians and long-time Berliner: Anton Newcombe of Brian Jonestown Massacre.
Of course, those Berlin vibes can still be felt — but something about going through the corona ordeal and something about the coming Amazon tower and all it stands for make it feel like we’re now in a brave new chapter in the city’s history.
Okay, enough rambling, oldtimer.
Anyhow, there’s more news below!
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Berlin corona stats for Tuesday, November 22
New cases in one day: 1,379 (1,494 Friday)
Total deaths: 5,089 (+18 over Friday)
🔴 7-day Covid-19 incidence (cases per 100,000): 145.9 (148.9 Friday)
🔴 7-day hospitalization incidence (also per 100,000): 11 (11.8 Tuesday)
🟢 Covid-19 ICU patient occupancy: 4.8% (6.1% Tuesday - GREEN AGAIN)
Source: Berlin’s corona page
Details of the government’s “gas price brake” are emerging, reports RBB. This being Germany, it’s a tad confusing. Originally, the government was going to cover our gas and district heating bills for December and a price cap would kick in in March next year. That’s still the case, but the price cap (for natural gas and district heating) will also apply retroactively for January and February — but in March. Eighty percent of gas used by households and small businesses will cost no more than 12 cents per kWh, with the state picking up the difference. The other 20% of gas used will be billed at the “contract price”. Residents who use district heating will see their heat capped at 9.5 cents per kWh. Got all that?
Car-free Hackescher Markt?
After the botched attempt to make Friedrichstraße car-free, Mitte has its sights on tourist magnet Hackescher Markt, reports Berliner Zeitung. “We would like to see more areas for pedestrians in Mitte. As part of this, we’re now looking at Hackescher Markt,” said Almut Neumann (Die Grüne, district councilor for roads). With 7,500 pedestrians per hour, the area is Berlin’s third busiest shopping precinct. Berlin is weirdly incompetent when it comes to setting up pedestrian zones — which every other German city has had in place since at least the 1970s. After the Friedrichstraße “pilot” programme involving planters and ugly yellow markings was cancelled by a judge, city transport czar Bettina Jarasch (Grüne) says plans are in place to re-pedestrianise the shopping strip in 2023.
At least 5 Bürgerämter closing for election prep
Ach Berlin, sometimes you just shoot yourself in the foot. City personnel and office space are needed to prepare for the February election do-over. As a result, five Bürgerämter will stay closed til then: Reinickendorf-Ost, Helle Mitte, Neu-Hohenschönhausen, Wilmersdorfer Arcaden, Kladow, according to T-Online. The closures mean fewer Bürgeramt appointments citywide. 😭
BVG worm news
Dunno about you, but I’m a fan of the multi-coloured “worm” pattern on Berlin’s bus, U-bahn and tram seats. A year ago, the creator of the squiggles, designer Herbert Lindinger, sued operator BVG for selling merchandise with the pattern — in his view a breach of copyright. Lindinger claimed his contract had only covered the seat covers. The court ruled in his favour, prompting BVG to remove worm-merch from its shops. Now, thanks to an out-of-court settlement, we’ll be able to buy worm sneakers and tea towels again. In theory. BVG has since begun rolling out its new “diversity” seat pattern and corresponding fashion line (video below). Bloomberg’s Feargus O'Sullivan has a nice take on the old worm pattern: “A glimpse of it can be as nostalgia-evoking as Proust’s madeleine to those who have spent time on the German capital’s subway.”
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In November 2008, US filmmaker David Lynch (Twin Peaks etc.) announced he was buying Teufelsberg — that heap of war rubble in Grunewald — with the aim of building an “invincible university” that would teach 1,000 students the art of Transcendental Meditation, of which Lynch is a devout practitioner. At the presentation of the project in Urania, the director’s German guru Emanuel Schiffgens caused a scandal by shouting: “Invincible Germany! Invincible Germany! I want to hear you all say, invincible Germany!” It goes without saying: the plan fell through.
Speaking of Americans: Thursday’s Thanksgiving. If you don’t have plans yet, here’s a handy guide on how to celebrate in Berlin. Happy Turkey Day!
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