Airport review: Berlin Tegel keeps going despite passing use-by date

THE FLIGHT

Air Baltic BT218 to Riga, economy class

THE ARRIVAL

Despite Berlin's otherwise excellent public transport system, no U-Bahn or S-Bahn trains go directly to Tegel Airport, which probably shouldn't come as a surprise given Tegel was supposed to have closed  in 2012 in favour of the much-delayed Berlin Brandenburg Airport. Buses from several parts of the city, including the TXL service from Alexanderplatz, take around 40 minutes. It's about €30 in a taxi.

THE LOOK

Tegel was essentially whipped up as quickly as possible to increase capacity during the Berlin Airlift, but the current look comes courtesy of 1970s brutalist architecture. It's distinctive, you've got to give it that – the whole terminal is a large hexagon. This makes walking distances very short, but the whole place rather cramped, with everything jutting out on corners.

CHECK-IN

After walking most of the way round the hexagon, slightly baffled, there are about 10 people in front of me in the check-in queue. This is a considerably better scenario than elsewhere, with passengers on other airlines facing formidable lines. It looks mildly chaotic, almost as if this Cold War relic wasn't designed for the number of passengers it handles today.

SECURITY

There's not enough room before or after the conveyor belt for more than approximately three people to get things out of their bags and put them away again. This, leads to a bit of a logjam.

FOOD AND DRINK

A word of warning: eat before you go through security, as the poky, scruffy departure lounge comes only with vending machines and an extremely rudimentary coffee shop. Beforehand, options are much more appealing, and have a local flavour. Out front, currywursts are sold from an old train carriage. Just inside, the Leysieffer cafe specialises in chocolates, but also does fab-looking cakes and strudels, plus mediocre €4.90 tuna sandwiches. The canteen-style Red Baron restaurant has the most variety, although €19.90 for spinach and ricotta ravioli is a bit steep.

RETAIL THERAPY

The offerings are surprisingly decent and non-generic. A fair few German fashion stores are squeezed into the gaps, the chocolate shop section of Leysieffer is much better than your usual duty-free Toblerone and Die Kleine Gesellschaft specialises in rather loveable soft toys, plus gear based on Berlin's bear logo and the quirky Ampelmann symbol from the city's pedestrian crossings.

KILLING TIME

Aside from free Wi-Fi, don't expect much frippery. There are a few oddities to check out,  including the plane suspended from the ceiling above the stairs to the Red Baron restaurant and the art installation of a Biggles-like airman with wings outside the currywurst carriage.

ONE MORE THING

We'll probably be travelling on personal hoverboards by the time Berlin Brandenburg opens. In the meantime, Berlin's two airports – Tegel and Schonefeld – are at opposite ends of the city. Going to the wrong one could be a costly mistake.

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THE VERDICT

For an airport that should have been killed off seven years ago, and is desperately inadequate for the task it finds itself lumbered with, Berlin Tegel makes a surprisingly good job of a shocking hand. What should be an utterly miserable experience turns into quiet admiration for a plucky underdog.

OUR RATING OUT OF FIVE

3

See also: The world's best airport just got a lot better

See also: Airport review: Manchester Terminal 2

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