A quarter century ago, the little East German village of Diepensee was a difficult place to reach. The number 38 bus ran out to Diepensee from the East Berlin suburb of Grünau, taking a circuitous route past allotment gardens and through industrial estates. Other than those who lived and worked in Diepensee, few knew the village even existed, tucked away as it was on the south side of Schönefeld airport's long runway. It was a village that made its living from the airport. But with the main terminal away on the other side of the runway, Diepensee had none of the hurried bustle of an airport community. The East German state airline, Interflug, had some maintenance facilities here. There was an élite helicopter unit based at Diepensee, used to support the work of the Volkspolizei and to ferry party officials and visiting dignitaries. For when the politburo and their guests flew in and out of Berlin, they would often use Diepensee, discreetly tucked away on the other side of the runway, rather than the main terminal.
In those days, there were few airlines flying to or from Schönefeld. What flights there were served principally destinations within what was called the family of socialist nations. So there were regular connections to most east European capitals, and, predictably enough, to Libya, Syria, Cuba, Vietnam, Ethiopia and a handful of other spots that struck the right ideological resonances. Direct flights to western Europe were few and far between.