Sector News
Transport In Berlin – Chaos and Corruption

We find Germany an enigma. In some ways, it is clearly the most efficient and successful country in Europe, yet in other ways it is apparently well behind best practice. In our area of interest, public procurement is very de-centralised and as we have reported occasionally, seems to be well behind the best in the EU. And some public services do not seem anywhere close to being as good as you might expect from the richest country in Europe.

Let’s look at transport around the capital as an example. Our experience in Berlin last week for the ProcureCon conference was that the train service within the city was chaotic. Because of construction works, getting from the Zoologishcer Garten station to the Schonefeld airport was a nightmare. It wasn’t just that trains were cancelled, it was the total lack of information to explain that no, the scheduled train (based on the almost incomprehensible paper timetables on notice boards which are about your only guide in the station) is just not running.

At least in the UK, there would have been signs up and some railway staff around to ask; Berlin was a shambles. Coming home, we took two trains with a 15 euro taxi journey in the middle in a desperate attempt to make it to our flight on time (which we did thanks to the taxi driver being somewhat crazy). UK stations have far better electronic information in stations; surely Berlin could invest in some of that? If not, a few staff might be helpful. Maybe it is money; to be fair, we should say the ticket from the airport to the city is a fraction of what you might pay on the Heathrow Express!

Then we have Schonefeld Airport, which should have been closed by now. But because of the delays in building the new Berlin Brandenburg Willy Brandt airport, Schonefeld is actually seeing a growth in passenger numbers. But it is struggling to cope, has some major drawbacks and is a very passenger-unfriendly place.

The initial baggage security stage was fine; but we then queued for 40 minutes in what might remind you of a 1950’s hospital corridor to get passports checked at the gate (we assume the airport is not set up for checking earlier in the process). We were then stuck until the plane boarded in a gate area that was designed for about 50 people, not 150 people.

As we reported here over a year ago, the delays in the new airport are a national embarrassment for Germany. It is supposedly due to open sometime next year; but no-one has committed to a date yet. Other reports suggest that 2017 timing is already impossible. Remember, this was supposed to open in 2011! And the projected cost has more than doubled to some €7 million and is still rising.

Then last month, as reported here by The Local de website, a former department head at the airport was jailed after admitting in court to taking a huge bribe from a subcontractor. The state court of Brandenburg in Cottbus on Wednesday sentenced Francis G. to three and a half years in prison on a bribery charge. He must also pay a fine equivalent to the €150,000 bribe he took from the firm Imtech.

He took the money in exchange for allowing the firm to claim additional payments of €25 million without proper checking. Two former employees of the firm, which went bust in 2015,  were also convicted. Imtech was responsible, among other things, for the construction of the fire safety system at the airport, which is one of the main reasons for the delays in the opening of the airport.

Francis G. had an interesting defence. He admitted taking the €150,000 bribe from one of the Imtech people in an Autobahn car park, but claimed he did not make any promises in exchange for the cash! (Wouldn’t that be fraud in that case)?

In any case, it is another embarrassment for Germany and the Brandenburg project. And travellers will just have to put up with Schonefeld for some time to come, we fear.

First Voice

  1. Dan says:

    Its not just Berlin. I was in Cologne earlier this year, and was told about the new subway that is being built. A few months previously, there had been a tunnel collapse, leading to houses also collapsing where someone was killed. The consensus was (and this is in Germany!) that if you want a project built on time and in budget, you hire the Swiss.