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Brandenburg: The Fifth Airport

There is a lot of talk about BER Airport, Schönefeld, Tegel and Tempelhof. But what about the fifth airport in the Berlin Brandenburg metropolitan area? Welcome to Schönhagen, where the world is still in order.

Berlin, September 9th, 2020 (The Berlin Spectator) — To those who have to find Schönhagen Airport from above, it is an advantage to know its coordinates. They are 52° 12′ 14″ N, 13° 9′ 36″ O. Getting there on four wheels is a little more complicated, at least from Berlin. The drive takes about as long as a flight from Schönhagen to Cologne.

Mark Wahlberg’s Choice

Today, Mark Wahlberg is expected on site with a rather big entourage. A gazillion trailers were setup in advance, and a giant wooden platform was built, for a scene those Hollywood people intend to shoot. They are putting in quite an effort, considering only two short scenes for the motion picture ‘Uncharted’ will be filmed at the airfield in Schönhagen, a village in Brandenburg province.

A hundred and eighty aircraft are parked in Schönhagen’s hangars. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

Compared to BER, the region’s new giant airport which will be opened on October 31st, 2020, Schönhagen is tiny. But it is a full-blown airport. According to its Managing Director Klaus-Jürgen Schwahn, a likable engineer and pilot from former West Berlin, even a big Boeing or Airbus could land here. The only problem: A large aircraft of this kind would not be able to lift off again, because the two runways are too short. It would have to be disassembled, loaded on several huge trucks, and put back together at BER Airport, 48 kilometers (30 miles) down the road.

Far More Quiet

Schönhagen may be a lot smaller than Berlin’s and Brandenburg’s famous airports, but it does not have their problems. There is no need to invest hundreds of millions of Euro, there is no nine-year construction delay, there are no scandals and things are far more quiet.

Klaus-Jürgen Schwahn has been running the ‘fifth airport’ since 2002. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

In Schönhagen, the staff, pilots, trainee pilots, Hollywood stars and passengers can hear the wind blow as they walk up to their small planes. They do not have to wait for any bus that would take them from the gate to the aircraft. The taxiways in Schönhagen are not congested.

Ninety Years of Flying

The big airports in the Berlin Brandenburg metropolitan area were affected by Corona a lot. In late March and April, the number of passenger flights slumped by as much as 99 percent. More Chinese-made masks arrived in freighter planes at Tegel Airport than passengers on tourist bombers. In Schönhagen, on the other hand, things just continued normally. In late March, they had even more traffic because most airline flights were grounded.

Two grown men fit into the tiniest helicopter. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

Schönhagen Airfield has been in service for more than 90 years. In the late 1920s, the neighboring hills had been used to get gliders up in the air, Klaus-Jürgen Schwahn says. Later, in Nazi Germany, an airport was prepared at today’s location. The first aircraft took off in 1934. After WWII, in 1946, the Allies decided to destroy the airfield, also because there was a flying ban for Germans. The planes on site were burned.

GDR Flight School Location

From 1950, Germans were allowed to use gliders again. By 1955, they had the right to fly motorized aircraft. A flying school was set up in Schönhagen. It was used by the former GDR. “Anyone in East Germany who wanted to fly for the NVA (the GDR’s armed forces) or in civilian aviation, came here”, Schwahn says.

A Cessna workhorse is grazing on the pasture. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

He explains that, after Germany’s reunification, his airport was the first one to be used by West Berlin’s hobby pilots. During the Cold War, they had been forced to go to airfields near the West German cities of Braunschweig or Hof, because of the flight ban in Berlin. From 1990, everything changed, and Schönhagen is a lot closer.

Sexy Business Jets

In 2002, when Klaus-Jürgen Schwahn came in after flying for Eurowings and running a private airline, Schönhagen was not that large. Since, he has extended it in all ways possible. Aviation is not everything here. Schwahn and his staff had to go through all of the bureaucracy Germany is known for when they wanted to extend it. Then they added buildings and accommodated companies. By now, there are 41 of the latter.

This is obviously pure business jet porn. What a beauty. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

All tenants at Schönhagen Airport deal with aviation in one way or another, except for the restaurant. There are flight schools, two aircraft manufacturers and similar kinds of businesses. More income and air traffic is being generated by the 180 planes that are stationed in the airport’s several hangars and on the tarmac. Those include tiny helicopters that look and sound like lawn mowers, single engine Cessnas, but also rather sexy business jets built by Embraer and other manufacturers.

Flying for Business and Pleasure

“We do everything those large airports don’t”, Dr. Schwahn states. He explains that sixty percent of the air traffic is commercial in the sense that companies that are active in Berlin have business jets that take their managers to Berlin and back to their HQs in other parts of Germany. Of course there are private pilots as well, who come to Schönhagen to take their steel bird up into the skies for pleasure.

They were not built to stand around on the tarmac all the time. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

In Germany, 75 percent of all air traffic is not connected to the large airlines with their big Airbuses and Boeings. Small planes do most of the flying in this country. One of the private pilots who lands in Schönhagen on a regular basis is Friedrich Merz, a politician who belongs to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative CDU, and who wants to become her successor, both as party leader and in the Chancellery located 50 kilometers (31 miles) towards the north.

The Sky is the Limit

Ambulance aircraft use Schönhagen Airport as well. Berlin’s two ambulance helicopters and the Federal Police fly in on a regular basis, but only to suck kerosene and for repairs at the local helicopter service location. By now, 80 percent of Schönhagen Airport’s revenue has little to do with flights, but more with service.

Calling the pizza service is easy from the tower. But will they deliver it by plane? Photo: Imanuel Marcus

When Hollywood superstars and their people show up, like today, revenue is being generated. Every month, the owners of all 180 aircraft on site pay rent. Even room for conferences is being offered by Schönhagen Airport. Here, the sky is obviously the limit, also business-wise.

Research on Low-Emission Flight

“We also deal with the subjects of the future”, Klaus-Jürgen Schwahn states. “This includes research related to low-emission aircraft. For many years, we have cooperated with universities.” Two of them are among the tenants at the ‘fifth airport’. Berlin’s ‘Freie Universität’ even has a research plane in one of Schwahn’s hangars. A big research center is supposed to be erected here soon.

Most pilots do excellent parking jobs. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

Walking around on the premises is interesting too. Every few minutes, some little plane either takes off or lands. Those flying schools perform ‘touch and gos’, meaning the students land those planes for a minute, only to take off again at full throttle. Those small aircraft are like insects that cannot be tamed.

Place for True Aviators

But those sleek business jets are truly impressive. There are pretty elegant planes with up to eight seats that are being propelled by single turbo props. Everyone around here knows the exact model names of every aircraft in the rather big hangars. At the tower, an employee is busy working the radio and talking to pilots. He has the best view in the house.

Just don’t forget to check the wind. Have a good flight. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

Forget BER, Schönefeld, Tegel or Tempelhof. Schönhagen is far more overseeable, cozy and authentic. This is the place for true aviators, located in the middle of nowhere in beautiful Brandenburg. Our reporter would not even have found Schönhagen Airport, if the street towards it was not called ‘Zum Flughafen’ (‘To the Airport’).