A Future for Berlin, the City of Railways
by Hans Stimman

(Renaissance of Railway Stations. The City in 21st Century. Editors: Bund Deutscher Architekten BDA; Deutsche Bahn AG; Förderverein Deutsches Architekturzentrum DAZ; in cooperation with Meinhard von Gerkan; 251-257)

Los Angeles, Berlin's twin city, criss-crossed by motor-ways, is rightly called the "city on four wheels." Berlin became a metropolis during the gründerzeit, i.e. the last thirty odd years of the 19th century, and stands for the prototype of a "city of railways."
Berlin's rise to being the largest industrial city in Germany and also its capital, is closely linked with the development and smooth operation of a highly modern network of urban transport infrastructure: railway lines and stations, trams, city rail (S-Bahn) and underground (U-Bahn), servicing the largest possible area. Another basis for the not always so smooth development of the large urban agglomeration of Berlin and its traffic was, of course, Hobrecht's system of roads and streets. Without the highIy beneficial engineering achievements of the 19th and early 20th centuries, neither the dramatically, accelerated economic and population growth, nor Berlin's specific urban and architectural developments would have been conceivable. In addition, the construction of the railways - from laying the tracks to the erection of station buildings and the production of engines - was an essential prerequisite for the rise of Berlin industry.

By the end of World War II, the cityscape was characterized by magnificent engineering structures, the "cathedrals of technology." The essential precondition for their creation was the cooperation of municipal transport and railway companies on the one hand, and engineers and architects on the other, with the common aim of achieving a solution to the building task that met both the functional needs and the requirements of architectural design. This never meant that the architect's task was restricted to ornamentation, but that the two building professions, which had established themselves as separate disciplines during the 19th century, worked together. The seven large Berlin railway stations, built between 1866 and 1880, are proof of this cooperation.
The construction of the Berlin Stadtbahn played a special role in the whole development of the city's railway station network. Due to the Stadtbahn being raised on a viaduct, the stations of that line were modelled on London stations, a type new in Germany at that time. Departure areas and platforms used to be arranged beside or behind dispatch and service areas, now they were put on top of each other to save space. Numerous city railway stations of impressive urban quality were built to this basic design.
This type offers an almost ideal basis for the currently on going modernisation programme. The original building structure of the stations at Friedrichstraße and Alexanderplatz is being exposed again. The ground floor space, besides serving as access to the raised station, now also offers space for additional shops and restaurants.
The station called "Lehrter Stadtbahnhof" was linked to the "Lehrter Fernbahnhof" (for long-distance travel) by staircase system, allowing for a direct transfer to long-distance trains. Like most other long-distance railway stations, the "Lehrter Fernbahnhof" was blown up in 1959 in an act of municipal self-mutilation that would be inconceivable today.
The blowing up of this building was part of a traffic-planning strategy, at least in West Berlin, that relied on the automobile and wanted to transform Berlin into a city that adapted to the car, just like its twin city of Los Angels. But the demolition frenzy was aIso a result of the city's political and administrative partition. The (eastern) "Deutsche Reichsbahn" was also responsible for the West Berlin part of the structures and operations, but had its headquarters in the Soviet sector. It reduced long-distance services in the western sectors to just a few transit trains. Just the barest minimum was done to maintain West Berlin railway installations. If possible, one travelled west by car or aeroplane.
The demolition of masterpieces of architecture and of construction engineering blocked the fountains of urban life and any direction and orientation for future urban planning, for example on Potsdamer Platz and Askanischer Platz. This left a functional and urban wasteland, and it took the enormous mental and material efforts by the Berlin Senate and the restructured new share-holder railway company, Deutsche Bahn AG, to revive it.

Traffic policies and decisions

With hindsight, the 1989 situation was quite a depressing starting point for a re-development and renaissance of the railways in terms of urban planning and traffic policies. Still, it was an auspicious moment for such a re-orientation.
The re-unification of Germany and the decision of the Federal Government to redevelop Berlin as the seat of government happened at a time when the effects of the traffic planners' exclusive concentration on the car had already created ecological and urban consequences that had in many cases crossed the pain barrier. Returning to its traditions, Berlin now intends to prove that large cities do not inevitably have to suffocate from exhaust fumes, noise and permanent traffic jams. It is impossible to overestimate the significance of this task in terms of its technical, financial and urban design solution. It is a question of working out a new, forward-looking system of local, long-distance and regional/suburban lines and stations as constituent elements of a modern city development.
Two different railway concepts were put forward for a decision: First, the "circular model": trains entering Berlin from the North or from the South are directed via the tracks of the Ringbahn on to the radial tracks by which they leave the city again. This concept required new long-distance railway stations at Westkreuz and Ostkreuz respectively. The second model was the "axis junction model" based on the idea of complementing the existing east west radial lines focused on the more than centenarian Stadtbahn, located in the city centre, by a north-south line.
Following a controversial discussion, the latter concept was adopted, slightly modified. It became the "mushroom concept" to form the basis of planning for long-distance and suburban railway services, also for linking them to the inner city S-Bahn and U-Bahn network. Both lines cross at Lehrter Bahnhof north of the river Spree in the middle of an hitherto rather underdeveloped urban area. The development project comprised not only the station but the design of a new station neighbourhood in the immediate vicinity of the future government district.
This "mushroom concept" does not provide for a main station either, but is based on the existing polycentric city and railway network structures with seven long-distance railway stations and 145 S-Bahn stations. Of course, the Lehrter Bahnhof's location at the crossing point of the two main railway lines and the border between East and West Berlin, is of the greatest significance for local policy making and will, therefore, serve a specially important function. However, there are also a number of stations in Berlin's railway network which support the urban design and traffic planning model of a decentralized concentration. The existing system is therefore extended, made more complete, and partly provided with new focuses, as at Papestraße ("south station"), Gesundbrunnen ("north station") and the new long-distance through station in Spandau. In addition, some stations will be substantially rebuilt: the hitherto "main" station of Hauptbahnhof, and the stations at Alexanderplatz and Friedrichstraße. There will also be a completely new regional/suburban railway station in the area of Potsdamer Platz and Leipziger Platz, with interchange to S-Bahn and U-Bahn lines. The entire railway station net will be completed with the construction of a new airport rail link plus a through station in the immediate vicinity of the projected airport south of Berlin (Berlin Brandenburg International).

The design concept for Berlin's new railway stations

After the rail routing and the station sites had been determined according to the "mushroom concept", the work of the urban and railway planners, as well as of the railway architects, started. All of them were in "unknown territory", at least in Berlin. The city had given up the stations as large metropolitan power centres, and the railway company (in Berlin at least) had lost touch with what its customers wanted and had accepted that people took their cars rather than board a train. The reorganization of the railways not only meant a financial disencumbrance and considerable budget funds available for investments, but above all, brought about a new legal form for the railway corporation. This led to a radical rethinking and ambitious planning, geared to a renaissance of the railways and of railway station architecture at the turn of the millenium. When government, ministries, associations and Federal Parliament have moved to Berlin, 135 million passengers will use the then rebuilt and extended network of railway lines to and from the capital. The railway system is to be a genuine, really fast alternative to inland air traffic and even more so to travelling by car. Passengers will be transported to Berlin's inner city from all directions. Each station will retain its individual function and gestalt, derived from its specific location in the city, its interconnection with other means of transport and its particular traffic role.
The station and their reception buildings are to remain spaces of transit, and mark the point of entering and leaving the city. The city expects that the station exteriors and interiors will make the link with 19th century engineering traditions. Formerly, stations were also the means of the railway companies' representation. The station provided the surrounding city neighbourhood with its identity, and the district provided the station with an "address." The areas around railway stations should strengthen the particular character of that city district by the way their functions and uses are structured. The commercial use of station floor space with offers for quick consumption is therefore absolutely appropriate. However, when stations are transformed into department stores with rail-links, this oversteps the mark.
The square in front of a station is an integral part of it as the place for the urban and functional integration of a large traffic machine into the body of the city.
Great demands will be made on the architecture of the future railway stations. The architects, therefore, get the chance of giving an architectural answer to the special hopes and feelings of travellers, an answer that goes beyond the mere fulfilling of functional briefs. The architects have to integrate feelings, not only of speed, wanderlust, farewell and joyful welcome, but also the desire for instantaneous enjoyment and fleeting encounters. Inside, a station is a contemporary engineering structure, externally it is a part of the city. As a constituent element of the city, the railway station is different from the rather autistic airport terminals, surrounded by motorways, multistorey car parks and airport hotels. However, one can learn something about interior spaciousness and openness from the new airport terminals, and from the lavish way they use daylighting. It is the daylight that contributes to turning the large halls into semi-public spaces, creating the necessary introductory ambience for the really open-air public spaces in front of the railway station.

New railway stations and their neighbourhoods

The Berlin Senate department started the concrete planning of the various railway stations and the adjoining city areas, partly working out in parallel both the traffic and urban design briefs, and preparing for the specific needs of the private developers. All this planning was done in the closest cooperation with the Deutsche Bahn AG. In most cases, a town planning ideas or building implementation competition was organized. More comprehensive reconstruction, like that at the Friedrichstraße, Alexanderplatz and finally the regional Potsdamer Platz stations, was commissioned directly by the responsible Senate departments.

Spandau Station
The 1991 planning euphoria in the atmosphere of a new beginning had not yet subsided, when an invited competition was held from May to September 1991, to solicit ideas for the urban redevelopment of the area around the Spandau railway station. The idea was that a new station for long-distance trains, regional/suburban rail and S-Bahn services, including its commercial facilities, would trigger off a redevelopment of the historic parts of Spandau town. With its situation near to the old town centre, the new railway station has almost gründerzeit advantages of location. The competition participants were asked to not only design a station, but also submit an urban design concept for its immediate surroundings, including the disused goods depot adjoining the main project area to the south. The raised platform hall level was to recall the old Stadtbahn stations.
The Zurich-based architect Santiago Calatrava won 1st prize with his both distinct and ambitious architectural design of the station complex proper. The associated urban development concept overcomes the former divisive effect of the rail tracks, Iinking the Spandau old town with the new town (Wilhelmstadt). This spacious concept could unfortunately not be realized, due to the budget restrictions of the Deutsche Bahn AG and the reticence of private investors, who would have had to contribute to the cost of building the service areas. The railway station is currently under construction to a revised design by the Hamburg architects von Gerkan, Marg & Partner. The project was developed in cooperation with the Stuttgart engineering office of Schlaich, Bergermann und Partner. It represents an extremely filigree design, and therefore a modern, contemporary interpretation of the classical platform hall roof covering. Taking leave of the first prizewinning project, and opting for the third-prize design had, in the end, a positive effect, in as much as budgetary conditions were more explicitly mentioned in the briefs for further architectural competitions.

Gesundbrunnen Station and surroundings
The participants in the nationwide open urban design ideas competition for the area around the Gesundbrunnen station in Berlin-Wedding had to solve a similar problem to Spandau: to work out an urban design master plan for the phased reconstruction of the sub-city centre around the railway station, and to submit proposals for the station concourse and technical installations, etc. The old buildings, worthy of preservation, were to be integrated into the design. Winner of the 1st prize was the Berlin architect Professor Axel Oestreich, who started on detailed design work in November, 1991, immediately following the publication of the competition results. His basic aim was to find the best possible solution to interlinking traffic flows, while creating spacious interiors with a pleasant atmosphere. The architect concentrated the traffic areas in a compact hall above the tracks, at street level. A glazed hall provides a view onto all platforms and direct access to them, via staircases/escalators and lifts. The visual link enables passengers to wait on the spacious station concourse right up until the last moment, before their trains arrive. Different from Spandau, the platforms are covered only by relatively simple open roofs. The new Gesundbrunnen station is designed in such a way as to make its function and distinct identity recognizable. Furthermore, attempts should be made to apply a uniform architectural language to the adjoining complex of technical installations so that all service buildings, signal boxes, transformer stations, as well as the road bridge near the station building give a distinct character to the appearance of the railways in this urban locality.

Hauptbahnhof and the banks of the river Spree
The Berlin Senate held an urban design ideas competition from July 27 to December 1, 1992 for the area surrounding the former East Berlin "Hauptbahnhof". The main object of the competition was not the redesign of the station, but the urban development plan for the city district around it with special emphasis on the location of the railway station in the immediate proximity to the Spree. The Berlin architects Julia Tophof and Norbert Hemprich were most successful in emphasising this and submitted a convincing project: an ingeniously devised transfer from the redesigned station forecourt via the Stralauer Platz (whose plan was based on its historical dimensions) to a Spree harbour basin. In the meantime, construction has started on several building projects based on the competition, in the area of the banks of the Spree, and also right next to the station.

The Lehrter Bahnhof
This railway station project at the crossing-point of long-distance lines is the focus of public attention. Due to lack of time, there was no competition, but the offices of von Gerkan, Marg & Partner (gmp), and Professor J P Kleihues were commissioned in the autumn of 1992 to each design a project for a railway station for intersecting long-distance rail routes. The brief entailed not only the necessary structures for a functionally optimal handling of train traffic, especially the flow of passengers changing trains, but also office space and space for shops inside the station building. It was explicitly stated that this should not result in a "shopping centre with rail links," but in a new type of railway station that would do justice to its metropolitan, "seat-of-government" location and offer space for commercial uses at the same time.
In December 1992, it was decided to implement the project of gmp, Hamburg. The Lehrter Bahnhof will probably be the most important railway intersection in Germany. Two ICE tracks will cross at this point, one for the east-west and one for the north-south rail services, linked to S-Bahn and U-Bahn lines, as well as the tram outside the station building. The whole complex on the banks of the Spree will be an equally distinct and imposing metropolitan piece of railway station architecture. The architects are the proponents of openness and transparency in building, and this concept is applied right down to the second basement level for the north-south line. The east-west line is raised to 10 m above ground. 30 million passengers are expected to pass through the station every year. In von Gerkan's design, the east-west-oriented tracks and platforms are covered with a large filigree barrel-vaulted glass roof spanning the whole length of the platforms, i.e. 430 metres. This platform hall cuts across two building "slabs" which offer a view from outside of the underground north-south station section. The 50 m wide and 170 m long station concourse is situated between the two "slabs," and is also covered with a glass roof. The hall articulates a welcoming gesture, like a new city gate, towards the borough of Moabit in the north, and the Parliament and government buildings in the south.
The integration of this dominant piece of railway station architecture into the urban landscape is effected by means of a rectangular plinth, rising to 4.4 m above street level and offering a public urban space for pedestrians. On the basis of the conditions created by the railway station project, an urban design competition was finally held in 1994 for the development of the surrounding areas and won by Oswald Mathias Ungers & Partner. The winner's basic concept aimed to continue Lenné's urban design for the Spreebogen and to make the Humboldthafen [harbour] accessible as a distinct urban space east of the new railway intersection. Ungers' project suggests the architectural enclosure of the Humboldthafen by a colonnaded structure, thus creating an impressive urban configuration that will give this inner-city space a unique quality. Unlike the original plans, the station complex by von Gerkan, Marg & Partner will no longer be surrounded by buildings on all sides, but will stand alone in a free space between Invalidenstraße and the Spree. Next to the station, there will be two more single buildings: an office block and hotel.
The railway station, in this way, becomes a part of an urban composition, comprising three pieces of architecture, and is a constituent element of an obvious urban order. In its differentiation, the proposed urban development structures offer a compacted sequence of richly contrasting building types, and of intermediate spaces which lend metropolitan character to this new city district, appropriate for a railway station neighbourhood at the close of our millenium.

Potsdamer Platz regional railway station
The Lehrter Bahnhof impresses due to its architectural get-up, visible from a distance, but the Potsdamer Platz station will be a minimalist variation of a railway station. Following the demolition of the old Potsdam station for long-distance trains, from which the historic city centre was within easy reach, a highly complex underground station is currently under construction in the shadow of the development projects by debis and Sony. Once construction has been completed, there will be two U-Bahn lines, two S-Bahn lines and the route of a suburban line will converge on Potsdamer Platz, crossing each other on three different subterranean levels. The lowest belongs to the long-distance route, continuing the old line from Hamburg through the Lehrter ICE Bahnhof underneath the Tiergarten and the Landwehr Canal to the Papestraße ICE station. The ICE trains will pass Potsdamer Platz without stopping, but the suburban trains will stop here. The station will therefore be important because of its function as a "disperser" of commuters from Berlin's surroundings. Lifts and escalators lead from the platform level to the next higher level, the so-called "passarelle." From here, passengers will proceed upwards to the U-Bahn. Above that are the Potsdamer Platz and the Leipziger Platz.
The entire railway complex is being planned and executed by the Munich architects Heinz Hilmer and Christoph Sattler, in a practice partnership with the Berlin architect Modersohn. The architects, in their winning design, have formulated the urban design for the area around the new Potsdamer Platz, offering the master grid, on which Renzo Piano, Helmut Jahn, Hans Kollhoff, Arata Isozaki, Rafael Moneo and others are currently building projects. The main task of the Munich team of architects lies below Potsdamer Platz, but above ground, the subterranean traffic concentration is to find architectural expression in two rectangular glass pavilions facing each other on the Platz. They serve as entrance structures to the underground levels, especially as skylights for directing daylight down into the passerelle, where all routes between the various lines converge and intersect. Quite deliberately, the pavilions were placed on the Potsdamer Platz area to emphasize the openness and the freely formed single building structures in contrast to the adjoining continuous, closed and built-up Leipziger Platz. All the same, the pavilions, being duplicates on a common axis, represent an element of quiet respite in the overall urban composition. Together with the new entrance structures to the S-Bahn at Leipziger Platz, designed by Oswald Mathias Ungers, these pavilions are something like minimalist heralds of the railway underworld.

Papestraße long-distance railway station
This station represents an important final addendum to the new railway network for the metropolis of Berlin. It will be the "southern main station" of the city, of the same importance as the Lehrter Bahnhof, but serving other areas: trains will depart from it in the directions of Halle, Leipzig and Dresden. Its excellent links by rail and also for traffic via the motorway, make it particularly attractive to travellers. It is the Berlin railway station that is most easily and directly reached from the airport south of the city. Furthermore, Papestraße will become the centre of a new urban development in the area of the southern junction, in the planning of the Berlin Senate, one of the future "relief centres" for the inner city on the Ring line.
The Papestraße railway station lies at the intersection of the old Anhalter and Dresdener railway tracks with the S-Bahn circular line, and is conceived as a tower. For the north-south route three platforms are projected to serve long-distance and regional/suburban trains plus one for the S-Bahn. The S-Bahn platform on the inner ring will be moved from its present position in order to make changing trains easier. From September 1993 to April 1994 a two-stage urban design ideas competition was held for the development of the entire station neighbourhood. The Berlin architects Reimar Herbst and Martin Lang won 1st prize. A series of squares along the "bracket" on the axis that is Tempelhofer Weg are to create the link with the boroughs of Schöneberg and Tempelhof. The configuration and the role of the Papestraße railway junction represents a unique chance for its presently highly fragmented neighbourhood and will be the sign and motivator of urban development in this area. The future shape of the station building is to be finalized by the end of 1996 by means of an invited competition for its implementation.
In a spirit of courage and farsightedness comparable to that of 100 years ago, the Deutsche Bahn AG and the Berlin Senate are making a big effort to truly begin anew in terms of urban and traffic planning. This is linked to a re-emergence of the railways which are again abreast of the times due to ecological considerations. Following decades of being neglected in favour of city express roads and large petrol stations, the railways are returning to the centre of town to become the driving force for a re-urbanization of long-standing wasteland areas in the city.

  • Berlin und seine Eisenbahnen, Berlin 1896
  • Gottwald Alfred B: Berliner Fernbahnhöfe, Düsseldorf 1982
  • Hotze, B: Die alte Version: ein Berliner Zentralbahnhof, Foyer II (1994), p. 18ff.
  • Hundke, S: Vier Kaufhäuser mit Gleisanschluss ?, Foyer II (1994), p. 23ff.
  • Luther, U: Renaissance für eine neue Bahnhofarchitectur, Foyer II (1992), pp. 4-7.
  • Senatsverwaltung für Bau- und Wohnungswesen and Stimmann, H (eds.): Lehrter Kreuzungsbahnhof, Städtebau und Architektur, Bericht 2, Berlin 1994
  • dito (eds.): Projekte für die Haupstadt Berlin, p.16ff. (on the Spreebogen)
  • Senatsverwaltung für Verkehr und Betriebe (ed.): Verkehrsplanung für Berlin. Materialien zum Stadtentwicklungsplan für Verkehr, Berlin 1995 - there pp. F1-F19.
  • Senatsverwaltung für Stadtentwicklung und Umweltschutz (ed.): Ideen für Berlin -Städtebauliche und landschaftplanerische Wettbewerbe 1991-1995, Berlin 1996- there pp.34-57 (on railway stations)
  • Siewert, H: Die Bedeutung der Stadtbahn für die Berliner Stadtentwicklung im 19.Jahrhundert; Hanover 1978
  • Stimmann, H: Ingenieurbaukunst für die Hauptstadt, Foyer I (1995), pp. 5-9
  • Stimmann, H: Eine Zukunft für die Eisenbahnstadt Berlin, Foyer II (1992), pp. 4-6