The Black Hole – The Berlin Spectator


Berlin is renovating its main bus station. But somewhere, construction doesn’t seem to be going very well. At the same time, the costs keep increasing. Will the effort ever be over?

Berlin, January 3, 2022 (The Berlin Spectator) – The long-distance bus is an attractive form of transport in Germany and most of Europe. Since the market was liberalized, many players have entered the arena, but only a few have survived. “Flixbus” has by far the largest market share today. Every few minutes, one of the brand’s green and orange coaches arrives at Berlin’s central bus station while another exits. On Sunday, ‘Bla Bla Bus’ vehicles also appeared. There are buses to Warsaw or Zagreb, but also to Augsburg or Dortmund. They go absolutely everywhere.

Modified plans

More and more people are traveling by coach, also because it is relatively cheap compared to train tickets sold by Deutsche Bahn. How about a bus ride to Hamburg, which costs a fraction of the train ride? Or would you rather go to Sofia, the Bulgarian capital? The journey via Munich, Salzburg, Villach and Zagreb takes around 32 hours, but it costs just 55 euros (US $ 63 or £ 46), if you get the ticket a few days in advance. A plane ticket costs about the same, but deceleration is exactly what some travelers seem to want. Why get there in two hours if the trip can be 16 times longer?

One day, 37 bus platforms will be available. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

All these long distance buses need a suitable terminal in Berlin. This is the conclusion to which the Senate of the city-state arrived in 2014. They thus accumulated 14 million euros (16 million dollars or 12 million pounds). The renovation began in 2016. By summer 2019, construction was due to be completed. But, apparently, there were problems. The plans had to be changed while the renovation was already underway.

On a smaller scale

In December 2019, the bus station in the German capital looked pretty bad. At this point, the passengers got off and entered their buses at a construction site. There was rubble and gravel all over the place, but it was difficult to find the entrance for pedestrians, which is why passengers continued to cross the bus ramp despite signs prohibiting them from doing so. In the past two years, this situation has hardly changed, but the price of the renovation has changed.

Many “Flixbuses” are constantly entering and exiting the Berlin bus terminal. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

By the end of 2019, the price planners were calculating had reached 39 million euros ($ 44.4 million or 32.8 million pounds). At the moment, the Berlin Senate expects a further price increase, as the RBB radio and television network reported about three weeks ago. This means that the initial costs have almost tripled. The same is true of the time it takes to complete the terminal. It’s almost like the smaller-scale airport disaster.

Big mess

Located near the exhibition grounds in the district of old West Berlin, the bus terminal was opened in 1966. It was time for a renovation. Under West German laws, Berlin was the only city where coaches were allowed to go or leave. All other national intercity connections were reserved for the monopoly Deutsche Bundesbahn, the predecessor of Deutsche Bahn. On January 1, 2013, the market for bus travel in Germany was opened, which means that they are allowed to carry passengers from anywhere to anywhere. International bus travel has never been restricted.

Four and a half years after the renovation began, its completion is still a year away. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

The 5.5 million passenger coaches that arrive in or depart from Berlin each year will see construction. For years the bus station was a big mess, and it still is today. Why does it take so long to erect a two-story building for the waiting rooms and a few snacks? And why are they still working on some of the 37 bus platforms that this terminal is supposed to have, four and a half years after the renovation started? No one seems to know the answer. What we do know is that the target date for the completion of this black hole has been further advanced, at the end of this year.

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