BERLIN -- The seemingly endless series of delays and debacles entangling the new Berlin airport claimed its first political victim Monday, after the project's planned opening was pushed back for a fifth time.
The mayor of Berlin, Klaus Wowereit, who helped build the city's reputation as an affordable, bohemian metropolis as the post-cold war capital, told reporters that he would quit as head of the board overseeing construction of the airport. He said he would stay on as mayor, despite calls for his ouster.
Mr. Wowereit's decision came just hours after an official communication leaked to the news media revealed that the latest projected opening date for the airport, in October, would not be met. The revelation, which came in a letter by the project's chief operating officer, unleashed an uproar among politicians in Berlin and in Brandenburg, the largely rural state that surrounds the capital. The city and state governments are the main stakeholders in the project, and the federal government is also a partner.
The new airport, the Berlin-Brandenburg Willy Brandt Airport, was originally scheduled to open in 2011, then June 2012. The deadline was then pushed back to March, and then to October. It is to replace two older airports -- Tegel in the west and Schönefeld in the east -- which were strained beyond capacity as the reunified city established itself as a tourist destination. Last year some 25 million visitors passed through Berlin. The new airport is supposed to be able handle up to 27 million passengers a year.
The delays in the project -- the latest caused by a faulty fire safety system -- have dented Germany's shiny image as an efficient industrial powerhouse driven by superior technical know-how and become the butt of jokes among Berlin residents.
A postcard that has become popular in tourist shops features a portrait of the former East German leader Walter Ulbricht with the quote "Nobody has the intention of opening an airport" -- a spoof on his infamous 1961 statement denying construction of the Berlin Wall.
"I'm going to be guarded about picking a date now," Mr. Wowereit said on Monday. "That it would be difficult to meet the target we had for this year was already known up and down the country."
No new proposed opening date has yet been set. A planned meeting of the project's board was moved forward and will be held next week, the airport said in a statement. Mr. Wowereit said he would formally resign from the board at that time.
Most likely he will be replaced by Matthias Platzeck, governor of Brandenburg, where the airport is located.
The latest delay followed a check completed last week that again found problems with the airport's automated fire safety system. Horst Amann, chief operating officer for the airport, said in a statement that "the planned Oct. 27, 2013, opening date is not going to be met. .
The latest delay is expected to drive the project's costs beyond the 4 billion euros, or $5 billion, that had been expected. When the airport was first planned 20 years ago, the budget was 2.4 billion euros, or $3.1 billion.
Last month the European Commission allowed the German government to contribute an additional 1.2 billion euros, which otherwise would have had to have been raised from private investors.
The opposition Greens in Berlin said they would seek to have Mr. Wowereit, a Social Democrat, unseated as mayor through a vote of confidence. Some Green politicians maintained that he already knew about the delay when he delivered his New Year's speech on Dec. 28. At the time, he said the construction project had been a source of "more trouble than anticipation" but he vowed to "focus all of our power on keeping the opening date in October 2013."
"Wowereit has withheld information about new problems at the airport and he's a liability," said Ramona Pop, a leader with the Greens in the city-state assembly.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.