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Berlin’s Warsaw Connection

Will the Berlin-Warsaw axis develop a new cultural relationship?

August 28, 2000

Will the Berlin-Warsaw axis develop a new cultural relationship?

There was nothing you could not find in Berlin after World War I. The arts were thriving. Theaters, cabarets and dance shows were everywhere. People went wild. That Josephine Baker, the black American dancer who became a sensation in Europe, was one of Berlin’s most popular performers is only one example of Berlin’s cultural heyday during the “golden 1920s.” Some eighty years later, say city officials, some of that cultural glitz is returning, especially now that Berlin is again Germany’s capital city.

Yet, for those from other continents who would like to enjoy the new Berlin, there is a small catch. Unless you live in Ulan Bator in Mongolia, Singapore, Toronto or Vancouver in Canada, or Havana, Cuba, you will not be able to get a direct flight to Berlin.

From New York, for example, you can are forced to fly through any number of cities — Paris, London, Lisbon, Frankfurt or even Moscow — before traveling on to Berlin. In fact, the closest major airport to Berlin, other than Frankfurt, is in the Polish capital Warsaw.

Many residents have blamed the city’s lack of direct flights to cities outside Europe on the supposed small size of Berlin’s three airports, Tegel, Schönefeld and Tempelhof. During the Berlin airlift in 1948 and 1949, the Allies landed thousands of transport planes at Tempelhof and newly-constructed Tegel. But time has passed these airports by, the reasoning goes, and they are evidently not big enough for today’s jumbo jets.

The reality, of course, is quite different. Ask the management of the major international airlines, and they will readily concede that Berlin is a burgeoning tourist destination that should be served by direct intercontinental flights. Then comes the caveat. No airline can take on the financial risk of these routes until there is sufficient demand to fill business class seats. Because there are few large corporations headquartered in Berlin, business travelers have little need to get there.

That presents international travelers with an interesting choice. Since the only way they can get to Berlin by air is by flying through another European city first, the question becomes one of where to visit before going on to Berlin. Just 270 miles away, Frankfurt is probably the logical choice, especially if time is a factor.

But Warsaw, the Polish capital, is perhaps a more interesting choice. As the financial capital of Germany, Frankfurt does not rank high on many traveler’s list of “must see” cities. Only 330 miles from Berlin, Warsaw is still just a short hop away for Berlin-bound tourists. But what makes Warsaw an especially attractive layover is the opportunity to soak up some Polish culture en route to Berlin.

In the end, a Warsaw connection might not be the best way to serve the interests of the flying public, but it could certainly be a boon for German-Polish relations — an airborne Berlin-Warsaw axis of cultural exchange. For once, that would be a fruitful axis between Berlin and another capital city — and one that might also be a crucial indicator of Poland’s rising power.