Diary of an Expat, Part 14
Flughafen Tegel
As part of an ongoing effort to be less pleasant, Berlin has decided to institute a lengthy period of extremely cold drizzle, charmingly partnered with what I would charitably describe as a "biting" wind. This means that my recent investment in a coat is paying dividends, and I'm looking to upgrade my hat to an umbrella in the near future. I think umbrellas are a thing we do here.

I don't spend a whole lot of time out of doors, so for the most part this has just meant that I try to walk to work and back more quickly. But I will note, as a point against the general loveliness of Berlin (which I will get to in a moment) that it is really only pleasant here for periods of time in the fall and spring / early summer. The late summer is hot and sticky, and winter — only a few short days into December — is aggravating itself with chilling rains that do little but remind you how much you hate life.

Speaking of hating life, though! I spent most of the week in London, which means that (like the last time I travelled out that way) my current opinion on Germany is colored by having stepped outside of it. But it also makes an easy topic — if the last diary was about the things I miss from the United States, I'll use this one to introduce one of my favorite things about Germany.

If you were to compile a list of the worst things that the Brits have done to the world in the name of helping it, H... well, okay, the Third Crusade ranks pretty highly too. But Heathrow International Airport has to run a close second. It's slow and expensive, and you spend most of your time sitting in a large hall waiting to be told what gate your flight is at, so that you can spend some more time waiting there. It's remarkably like the DMV, or Purgatory.

But if you're me, then you end up departing Heathrow and landing in Berlin, and Berlin Tegel Airport is one of the best things in history.

Arriving to Tegel by cab, you'll notice that your cabbie asks you what gate you're departing from. This is because he can then take you pretty much directly there: rather than having a single collection point, the airport is divided up into several terminals, with the jetway and the check-in desk essentially connected. So you come in, stand in line for a few minutes, hand over your checked bags to a very polite person who does not condescend to ask you whether you packed your own goddamned luggage, and then wait for security.

Security at Tegel is also not maintained by people being paid minimum wage to act out security theater that everyone else can see is monumentally pointless. For example, did you know that it's possible to go through security without removing all your clothes? When I flew out of Tegel the first time, the guy who checked my luggage made a joke about it. A joke! It's almost as if airport security isn't Very Serious and To Be Taken Very Seriously.

(actually, in fairness, Heathrow security is relatively brisk and straightforward as well. Ridiculous, pointless security measures are really just the domain of the TSA, so far as I know, but it's so refreshing to hear that practically openly admitted by airport workers that I feel it's worthy of note)

After that, that's it. You wait for your flight, and then you get on your flight.

Where Heathrow really shines, however, is when you land. You move off the jetway, and there are two very efficient German policemen there to check passports. Every time I have gone through customs in the United States, it has taken me at least ten minutes and frequently more like twenty. When you try to get through Heathrow, they fucking turn it into a quiz ("oh, you're here on business, eh? What business?"). In Germany, you stand in line for a minute, get your passport stamped, and then baggage claim is right there. It's right next to the plane, which means it only take a couple of minutes for your bags to arrive.

Then you take twenty steps, and you're outside the airport at the taxi stand. It is this weird, beautiful throwback to a time when, I presume, air travel didn't have to be agonizing and frustrating. The airport is clean and efficient, it has the services you need (for example ATMs and currency conversions) and the entire process from start to finish never leaves you wondering why, exactly, you're going through the hassle.

Some people do not like Tegel because it is relatively small, and does not have the vast hordes of shops that mark, say, Heathrow — which is at least as much a shopping mall as it is an airport. Having looked at prices in airports before, I am well enough convinced that I want nothing to do with them, and as a general rule I'm at the airport because I'm going somewhere, not because I suddenly feel the need to purchase kitsch at three times retail markup.

In any case, you'd best experience Tegel while you can, because they're shutting it down. Berlin's airport will be relocating to the south, I imagine so that it can join the crowd of soulless, aggravating megaconstructions where you have to ride a train to get between terminals and the security lines snake through mazes made of cordon.

But for now it's there, and it's one of the best parts about traveling to Berlin.
4.12.2011 - 1h26
Comrade Alex
4.12.2011 - 1h37

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