Berlin's first stations
A look at the history of the Berlin railways contributes to this expert knowledge. Capital cities do not have a main station: this is a prevailing paradox in the history of Europe's railways. Around 1840, one main station never sufficed for the centres of economic and political power in Britain or France where numerous railway companies built their own lines, touching the provincial capitals, and each had its own terminus in the metropolis. A really large 19th century city had at least three to five railway stations with unique names: King's Cross or Waterloo, Gare de Lyon or Gare Montparnasse have become landmarks in the topography of London and Paris.
Berlin, in the period from 1840 to 1950, was no different. The first railway lines from Berlin to Potsdam (1838), to Köthen in Anhalt (1841), to Frankfurt/Oder (1842), to Stettin (1843) and to Hamburg (1846) were separate ventures which had their points of departure in Prussia's capital. The various termini were situated outside the gates in the then still extant city wall and were named after the final destinations of each line. The Prussian government had a connecting line built in 1851 along the old Berlin city wall to accommodate a modest through traffic, especially for military and goods trains.
After an interval of nearly twenty years, further stations were built in Berlin for the eastern line to Königsberg (later Kaliningrad, 1867), for the Görlitz line (I867/68), and for the Lehrte line to Hanover (1871). After that, the Dresdener line (1875) and the northern line to Stralsund (1877) were only provided with provisional station buildings, while the line to Blankenheim and Wetzlar (built in 1879) did not get its own station at all. At the same time, the original Potsdam, Anhalt, Frankfurt and Stettin stations were demolished, because they had become too small, and replaced by the well-known "cathedrals of engineering".
Among these, Franz Schwechten's second Anhalter Bahnhof of 1880 stands out due to both its huge size and masterly design. In 1887, a Frenchman visiting Berlin observed, "The German railway stations do not recall old rocks like ours in Paris. They are brand new, full of light, built in brick or sandstone in the Trocadero style, and always richly ornamented. They are for the most part spacious and well-lit, more suitable for through traffic than for accommodating a labyrinth of offices. The station officials are really military people in uniform. They salute their superiors bolt-upright and with their feet at right angles. The public is free to walk around in the stations with or without tickets. In France, not even a station in the last backwood sub-prefecture would want the buffets of Berlin stations as a gift."(2)
Due to the flood of new building, the only "first generation" station from the time before 1850 still existing in Berlin is the Hamburg station in Berlin-Moabit, built by the architect Friedrich Neuhaus. It escaped demolition, in the first instance, following the nationalization of railway companies in 1884, secondly because it was refurbished as a museum of traffic and building in 1906, and finally thanks to the reconstruction as a museum of modern art by Josef Paul Kleihues (1996).
Ring line and city rail network
The old connecting railway line between the first stations for long-distance journeys was soon no longer able to cope with the amount of traffic. As of 1867, it was re- placed by a new line far outside the city that ran from East Moabit via Gesundbrunnen to Rixdorf and Schöneberg (1871/72), and from West Moabit via Charlottenburg and Halensee to Tempelhof (1877): the Berlin Ringbahn [circular line]. Separate double tracks for passenger and goods transport facilitated operations. The Ring line also went through the Potsdamer Bahnhof, creating the link with the centre of Berlin and with the old termini for long-distance travel, while special connecting trains steamed along the other routes.
Berlin's city centre was reached by trains running along the 12,145 km long Stadtbahn line built in 1882 on 731 brick masonry viaduct arches, on dams and numerous bridges on an east-west axis. Two tracks are for long-distance traffic, two further tracks serve local transport. The construction of the line only became possible by raising it above street level. The city railway at first had nine, later eleven stations for local transport: Charlottenburg, Savignyplatz, Zoologischer Garten, Tiergarten, Bellevue, Lehrter Stadtbahnhof, Friedrichstraße, Börse, Alexanderplatz, Jannowitzbrücke and Schlesischer Bahnhof. Then there were four, and later five stations for long-distance trains: Charlottenburg, Zoologischer Garten, Friedrichstraße, Alexanderplatz and Schlesischer Bahnhof. Acquiring the plots of land necessary for the construction of the line proved difficult. The Spree and the former Königsgraben [King's moat] had to be built over in part.
The whole project had been started by private entrepreneurs during the time of the industrial gründerzeit around the turn of the century, but had to be completed under state management due to a bankruptcy. The architect August Orth had the initial idea of such a diameter railway line in Berlin, but to his vexation, Ernst Dircksen, who had gathered practical experience with the construction of the Ringbahn, was commissioned to realize the Stadtbahn project.
Some of the names of the architects who built the various stations along the Stadtbahn line are unknown today. Bellevue and Alexanderplatz stations are attributed to Johann Eduard Jacobsthal, the Börse and Friedrichstraße stations to Johannes Vollmer. The placing of all service and technical spaces underneath, and the iron platform hall structures above the track viaducts were common features of their unusual architectural design. Further vaulted spaces along the line could be rented for shops, businesses, storage or pubs, restaurants and snack-bars.
The realistic writers of the period, like Theodor Fontane, Julius Stinde and Heinrich Seidel, used the motif repeatedly. "The small artists' pub in the vault underneath the Stadtbahn was empty. We looked for a secluded corner, sat down at one of the white-scoured tables and ordered a bottle of Rudesheimer. The sounds of concert music floated in through the door, and one also heard the incessant crunching of feet on gravel. At times, a train rolled along above our heads with muted thundering noises, setting the glasses on the buffet to softly tremble and jingle. Thus, we were in the midst of the teaming. hurrying world - and yet all alone and by ourselves."(3) The Stadtbahn had no central station (even though the one at Friedrichstraße was sometimes quoted as such by the press), it was rather a long-drawn-out system of rails and stations. At different points along the line from Charlottenburg to Schlesischer Bahnhof there were intersections with long-distance lines so that travellers to remote places could chose between several alighting points near to their final destination.
The first local transport city trains only had two waggons for the 2nd and 3rd classes, but passenger numbers quickly increased, requiring trains with eight cars, mainly for the cheaper classes. The use of double-deck carriages on the Ringbahn was less successful, so a special train vehicle was developed and bought for the Stadtbahn: compartments on a double-axle, with several doors and floors specially lowered to platform levels. These vehicles were to speed up the boarding and alighting of passengers.
In 1884, 11 million passengers used the Stadtbahn, and 3 million the Ringbahn. A journalist wrote at the time, "The triumph of engineering, the pride of the Reich's capital, as the Railway Minister Maybach once called the Stadtbahn, has met with the fullest approval inside and outside Germany. The snappy world city on the Seine does not want to be surpassed by the German capital and therefore builds a city railway that is to be called "chemin de fer métropolitain" and will spread across the whole of Paris. And even the beautiful imperial residence on the Danube has licensed the construction of a Viennese "Stadtbahn"... London's dirty and damp underground city railways did not particularly encourage imitations, but now, following the opening of the airy, meticulously clean and tastefully decorated Berlin rail, there is a stirring everywhere to build railroads, even over rooftops, which will be propelled by electricity, steam or condensed air".(4)
According to the railway policy of Reich Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, the entire Berlin railway lines and services were nationalized in 1884. The enormous population growth of the imperial capital Berlin during the beginning of the industrial age led to the increasing need for transportation. In turn, the railway services allowed for housing developments to be built at some distance from the city centre. In 1891, a new tariff was introduced in Berlin, that had only two zones for the Stadtbahn and the Ringbahn, and a reduced suburban rate. This simplified the use of the railways. 1893 saw the first season tickets at reduced rates, which soon became an attribute of the "commuter". In that same year, ticket barriers were introduced.
Further suburban stations were built along the long- distance lines from the early days of railway construction and services. Many large factories moved to the urban periphery at the same time. The railway administrations therefore increased the number of suburban train services. In consequence, separate tracks for local transport had to be built everywhere at the turn of the century, frequently raising the tracks above street level. This "separation" of local city rail, Ring line and suburban services from the long-distance railway routes in Berlin was a basis for the formation of the S-Bahn. On the other hand, the proximity of the local railways to national and international railway networks and the easy transfer from one to the other was an essential element of the S-Bahn's attractiveness.
The "Neue Wannseebahn", opened in 1891 and running between Zehlendorf and the Wannseebahnhof at Potsdamer Platz, became the prototype for these redevelopment measures. It ran parallel to the old Potsdam railway line and was connected to Neubabelsberg by the old Wannsee line (1874) via Schlachtensee and Nikolassee. Its high train platforms allowed for the use of an improved type of three-axle compartment carriage with standard chassis, short-coupled two-by-two. The platform elements and amenities (roof supports, ticket barriers, passenger and staff cabins, benches, direction signs, drinking water pump and clock) were considered exemplary. From 1900 to 1902, test runs were even done for the introduction of electrified trains. However, steam engines and compartment carriages remained the standard for a while.
Until 1914, the entire Berlin railway network was developed in similar fashion, accompanied by the construction of about a hundred smaller station buildings for stations along the suburban lines, whose historic Wilhelminian style was to mark the metropolitan townscape alongside other buildings. They were mostly designed by the architects of the Prussian State Railway Administration. Names like Karl Cornelius (Yorckstraße, Grunewald), Fritz Klingholz (Eberßtraße, extension of Stettiner Bahnhof), Ernst Schwartz (Heerstraße, Spandau West), Waldemar Suadicani (Karlshorst, Köpenick) and Armin Wegner (Gesundbrunnen, Stettiner Vorortbahnhof) are almost forgotten. Sometimes the so-called "Terrain Societies" financed stations near their housing developments, for example in Frohnau, where such a society employed the architects Hart & Lesser.
In 1910, the Royal Railway Directorate Berlin had 176 stations and train stops. By that time, the long-distance services ran completely separately from the local circular and suburban train traffic. The Ringbahn line had adopted a "semi-circular" train service that also used the Stadtbahn rails. For travellers from long distances, it was a pleasant bonus that their train tickets, issued for the destination "Berlin Stadtbahn" or the various terminal stations, were valid for a continuation of their journey on all trains within the area of the Ring line.
Berlin railway traffic
In 1910, 488 long-distance trains and 1972 local trains were put on the rails in Berlin, and on Sundays a further 420 regional trains. This meant that the very busy Stadtbahn line had to handle 836 trains on Sunday mornings and nights at intervals of two and a half minutes. The Prussian Parliament therefore decided in 1913, despite some opposition, to electrify the Berlin Stadtbahn and Ringbahn by means of an overhead cable with alternating current (standard value 15,000 Volt at 16.75 Hertz), and even a special "fighter engine" produced by the steam locomotive industry was unable to fight against it successfully. Berlin was on the way to "electropolis", the electrified world city.
The concept of a common administration for Greater Berlin, with its population exceeding the 3.5 million mark, had been in people's minds for a long time, but was only realized in 1920. Numerous projects for a railway tunnel between the northern stations (Lehrter and Stettiner Bahnhof) and the ones in the south of the city (Potsdamer and Anhalter Bahnhof) were already submitted in 1910 for the competition "Greater Berlin". This railway tunnel was to have the same kind of function for long-distance and suburban services as the Stadtbahn line had in an east- westerly direction. However, due to World War I, these plans were not put into effect.
Quite soon, the Stadtbahn stations of Zoologischer Garten, Friedrichstraße and Alexanderplatz proved too small, since long-distance trains, arriving with delays, could not be overtaken there. The old structure of the Friedrichstraße station was pulled down (work started already during World War I) and replaced by an early-expressionist new building by Carl Theodor Brodführer.
It had separate platform halls for long-distance and local services. This centrally placed complex was completed in 1925. A satirist wrote at the time, "A traveller arriving at Friedrichstraße station is dropped into the most violent traffic storm, and though he may catch the most venerable taxi cab, he will instantly be provided with a picture of the murderous spectacle of Berlin pulling its work yoke. The clangs of car horns will yell into his ears, and the red and green traffic signals will blink into his eyes. "(5)
When the Deutsche Reichsbahn, in 1920, became the successor of the Preussische Staatsbahn, the Berlin plans for electrifying the railways were taken up again. In view of successful operations on the Berlin overhead and underground rails as well as on a test track from Potsdamer Bahnhof to Lichterfelde-Ost, the Deutsche Reichsbahn opted for 800 Volt D.C. with a lateral conductor rail. From 1924 to 1927, the three northern lines from Stettiner Bahnhof to Bernau, Oranienburg and Velten switched to electric motor coach operations in the framework of a large-scale test run.
Then, in 1926, it was decided to re-equip the Berlin Stadtbahn, the Ringbahn and connecting suburban lines with new D.C. autorail technology. The conversion programme, budgeted at 150 million Reichsmark, entailed new buildings, the conductor rails, faster signalling systems and a modern train repair plant. A "fleet" of 638 pairs of motor coaches and control cars or trailers was procured. Up to four of these "quarter trains" could be coupled and controlled from a driver's cabin. As of 1928, the new trains ran on the Stadtbahn with connecting lines, and serviced the Ringbahn as of 1929. Their angular shape and pleasing red and yellow paint coat appeared inimitable and became a characteristic feature of the "S-Bahn." This name in white letters on green was in use since 1930, probably following the similar, blue sign of the "U-Bahn."
At that time there was great competition between the municipal Berlin traffic corporation (BVG) and the national Deutsche Reichsbahn corporation (DRG) in the fight for customers. They did not always offer the same rates, and were not in every case mindful of easy transfer facilities to the lines of the competitor. Speed and cleanliness of the municipal overhead and underground transport system were convincing, its stations designed by Alfred Grenander pleasantly appealing. The modernization and speeding up of the S-Bahn by electrical operation was meant to make it more attractive to passengers. This is also why, on the occasion of the "Great Stadtbahn Electrification," numerous new buildings were erected. It was Richard Brademann, head of the Reichsbahn Department of Building, who, until the start of World War II, created its unique clinker style (that could be called hanseatic-expressionist), together with his colleagues Fritz Hane, Gönther Lüttich and Hugo Röttcher. Their outstanding achievements are, among others, the station buildings at Wannsee, Jannowitzbrücke and Neubabelsberg, the Spreebord freight depot, the Schöneweide train repair shop, the rectifier plants in Tegel and Schöneberg and the Halensee control station.
As late as 1929, the S-Bahn net was extended by the 4.5 km long electrified "Siemensbahn" line, financed by the Siemens company, built by the firm's architect Hans Hertlein in the style of modern functionality. By 1933, the Wannseebahn had been electrified and provided with original new suburban station buildings (Sundgauer Straße, Feuerbachstraße). At the same time, the DRG equipped its long-distance line, running parallel to the Wannseebahn, with conductor rails from Zehlendorf to the Potsdamer Bahnhof in Berlin so that fast "bankers" trains' could transport passengers without intermediate stops from the south-western residential suburbs to the administrative heart of the city.
North-south tunnel and large-scale projects
Starting in 1933, the Reichsbahn (fired by National Socialist job creation measures) drove the first railway tunnel through Berlin to connect the northern with the southern electrified suburban services. The first half of this north-south line, from Stettiner Bahnhof to Unter den Linden, was opened in 1936. During the Olympic Games, the world was presented with the demonstration of an extremely tight schedule of new S-Bahn auto-rail driven trains at 90 second intervals, i.e. 38 trains per hour in each direction. The second half of the north-south line, from Unter den Linden to Potsdamer Platz and Anhalter Bahnhof, started operating in 1939. Richard Brademann designed the underground stations, using mainly light- coloured opaque glass surfaces. By the beginning of the War, a rail network covering a total distance of 285 km had been electrified.
From 1933 to 1939, the Stadtbahn station Zoologischer Garten was completely rebuilt to designs by Fritz Hane to accommodate long-distance rail traffic. A separate platform hall was built for the local S-Bahn. Today, the "Zoo" station, with its steel pagoda roof over a plinth clad in muschelkalk, remains one of the few examples of German station architecture of the 1930s, even though it has been severely impaired by several renovations.
In connection with Adolf Hitler's plans for recreating and transforming the Capital of the Reich, a gigantic grand boulevard was to be built (start of construction was projected for 1937). Ample space was to be created for this avenue by demolishing old houses and using large tracts of land then belonging to the railways. Albert Speer later remembered, "Undersecretary Dr. Leibbrand of the Ministry of Transport, chief planner of the Reichsbahn, saw Hitler's project as the chance of creating a spacious new railway network for the German capital. Together we devised a probably ideal solution: extending the capacity of the Berlin Ringbahn by means of two additional tracks, thus facilitating the infiltration of long-distance trains. This would have allowed for the building of one central station in the north, and one in the south of Berlin, rendering the numerous Berlin terminals (Lehrter, Anhalter and Potsdamer stations) superfluous. The cost of these new constructions was estimated at one to two billion marks."(6)
On the basis of these plans, the Reichsbahn construction administration (that had been specially created for this task) also made plans for doubling the extent of the S-Bahn network, including a second tunnel line from Anhalter Bahnhof via Moritzplatz to Görlitzer Bahnhof, the extensive conversion of suburban lines to electricity-run operations, and finally even the complete replacement of long-distance train services on the Stadtbahn rails by a new express S-Bahn for the district services in the new capital "Germania." Nothing of this became a reality.
The 1943 passenger counts on Berlin S-Bahn trains registered a total of 737 million. This figure remains unrivalled until today. Enemy bombing of Berlin, street fighting and the mad self-destruction during the last days of the war in 1945 brought everything to a standstill. Following the blasting of the north-south line, the tunnel shaft under the Landwehr Canal was swamped with water. The tunnel was only passable again at the end of 1947. While just a few "hoarding trains" were entering the city, the dismantling programme was already in full swing: rails, technical installations and autorail trains were taken down and transported to the eastern European countries which lay in ruins.
The railway network divided in two
According to an Allied command, railway services were put under the direction of the Deutsche Reichsbahn for all Allied Sectors in Berlin in the summer of 1945. This, by the way, was the reason for the GDR keeping the old name for its own state railways for a long time. It took years, until 1951, to fill the biggest gaps in the S-Bahn network. 420 million passengers were counted that year, more than one million a day. But due to the diverging development of both halves of the city since the Berlin blockade of 1948/49, the S-Bahn served a difficult market. Up until 196I, the trains were still running through eastern and western sectors, but West-Berlin citizens were officially not permitted, on penalty, to use them for trips to destinations in Berlin's surroundings while East- Berliners and East-Germans going to western sectors were under suspicion of being (potential or real) refugees.
Certain changes of railway routes resulted from the Reichsbahn closing the old terminals of long-distance lines in West-Berlin in 1951/52. The trains to and from West Germany now concentrated on stations of the Stadtbahn line. The "Zoo" station now took on its new role as the main station of the western half-city. Apart from the "Ostbahnhof" (formerly Schlesischer Bahnhof, East Berlin developed the stations at Lichtenberg and Schöneweide to serve the national north-south railway network of the GDR.
Back then, both city halves still constructed new station buildings for the S-Bahn, to replace war damaged structures. At present, many of the airy modern-cubist glass halls from this period have either been pulled down (Gesundbrunnen, Halensee) or are in danger of being demolished (Schönhauser Allee, Warschauer Straße) since their modest architectural style has met with little appreciation.
Soon after the founding of the GDR, the so-called "Durchläufer" through-trains came into operation: trains running from suburbs on GDR territory west of Berlin to the eastern city sectors without stopping in West Berlin. This service was meant to save certain East Germans from the temptations of capitalism. It was discontinued in 1958, when the circular line around Berlin from Ostbahnhof (Schlesischer Bahnhof) to Potsdam was opened and run with express trains under the epithet of "Sputnik." This line was part of the infrastructural prerequisites for the building of the Wall in 1961 and finally enabled the GDR to run trains without touching West Berlin.
On August 13, 1961 the city, and with it the S-Bahn network, was cut in half. A wall now blocked the tracks in thirteen spots, and 33 km of railway line had to be completely put out of service. The Stadtbahn station at Friedrichstraße was now divided into two parts, both politically and with regard to practical operations, for the two halves of the city. The western network now had 145 km of rails, the eastern one 165 km. The north-south line, though for most of its distance underneath the East Berlin borough of Mitte, was nevertheless given to West Berlin, since it would have been technically impossible for East Berlin to run an "island" service in the tunnel. Except for Friedrichstraße, its stations were bricked up and became dismal "ghost stations." Furthermore, the GDR Reichsbahn increasingly connected the cut-offterminal bits of suburban lines, that had run trains from Berlin in easterly directions, to near-by lines, creating junctions with the eastern part of the Ringbahn and the outer freight line, at the same time electrifying the whole network.
In 1961, the people of West Berlin started a boycott of the S-Bahn, supported by the BVG who even hired buses from West German local transport corporations. In a huge construction project, the Berlin Senate built several new underground lines in direct competition to "Ulbricht's S-Bahn" whose passenger figures in the Western part of the city slumped to about 25 million until 1976. This meant that the original source of hard currency almost turned into a subsidized business for the GDR since it had to pay its West Berlin employees in "west money" and did not get sufficient deutschmark earnings in return. Buildings and trains were no longer maintained properly or renewed. To perceptive people this lent them a special kind of charm: "Each trip with the Berlin S-Bahn offers a direct and sensuous feeling of history. Here, in a historical backwater, in the midst of a unique landscape in which time has come to a standstill, the passenger, with each ticket, is buying a pass for a journey into times gone by. Things from the past have remained alive in the trains' fifty year old carriages and on 19th century station platforms; they are not dead inventories or untouchable exhibits in a museum of technology."(7)
The East Berlin railway administration therefore tried to lease or sell this "looser" to the West Berlin Senate. The project failed due to the fact that it was the operator, and not the proprietor of the S-Bahn. The problems became abundantly clear during the West Berlin S-Bahn employees' strike in the summer of 1980. As a result, the Reichsbahn discontinued all train services in West Berlin, except for the two services on the north-south tunnel line and the Stadtbahn, because these were needed for people to reach the "border crossing checkpoint" at Friedrichstraße. Thus, S-Bahn trains on the Ringbahn, on the line to Wannsee and the "Westbahn" in the direction of Spandau were things of the past.
All four Allied Occupation Powers had to first agree before the Senate was able to take over responsibility for the running of the S-Bahn in West Berlin in the beginning of 1984. The operating commission went to the BVG, and the Senate spent large sums to rebuild the neglected tracks and refurbish dilapidated station buildings. In order to improve local transport facilities on the "island of West Berlin" under the prevailing political conditions, the network was "compacted": new stops were created at Schichauweg, Buckower Chaußee and Priesterweg, further stations built at Kolonnenstraße, Holtzendorffplatz and Werftstraße, and new short-distance trains with fast acceleration were procured and put into service. The Wannseebahn was renovated in style. S-Bahn-owned repair shops had to be built in Wannsee. The West Berlin southern circular line, too, though only re-opened in 1993, was quite lavishly rebuilt by the Berlin Senate. Such costly highquality projects soon became obsolete with the fall of the Wall in the autumn of 1989, since the S-Bahn returned to the care of the Deutsche Reichsbahn soon after that, for the time being.
Until then, new S-Bahn lines had been built and were operating in East Berlin: to the satellite town of Marzahn (1976), to Ahrensfelde (1982) and Wartenberg (1985).
Here the "reception buildings" were much reduced, almost impersonal concrete cubes with glass block walls. A GDR publication says about the architecture, "Along its newly built routes, the S-Bahn's architectural expression sets a contrast to historic buildings. Steel and prefabricated concrete elements prevail. The design is adapted to the function of the S-Bahn, the signposting unflourished, with symbols instantly intelligible. No capitals, no cast-iron lattices and benches, and yet an attractive decor."(8)
The last station to be opened was the Wuhletal interchange with transfer to the here overground "underground" line running to the new settlement area of Hönow. This traffic route was originally to be serviced by the S-Bahn, but its trains could not have been added to the already too heavy traffic on the remnant Stadtbahn line to Friedrichstraße, so they were connected to the underground in the direction of Alexanderplatz.
- Griebens Reiseführer, vol. 6 on Berlin and surroundings, 54th ed., Berlin 1910, p. 30.
- Jules Laforgue: Berlin. La cour et la ville. Paris 1887 (Berlin. Der Hof und die Stadt, 1887, 3rd ed. Frankfurt am Main 1990, p.11).
- Heinrich Seidel: Sonnenuntergang bei Tegel (1896).
- Emil Dominik: Quer durch und ringsum Berlin. Berlin 1883.
- Eugen Szatmari: Was nicht im "Baedeker" steht, vol. 1: Berlin. Munich 1927, p.4.
- Albert Speer: Erinnerungen. Berlin (West) 1969, p.91.
- Alfred Behrens, Volker Noth: Berliner Stadtbahnbileder. Berlin (West) 1981, p.7.
- Fritz Borchert, Günter Götz, Hans Müller et al.: Berlin und seine S-Bahn. Berlin (East) 1987, p.67.