Sunday, 7 April 2013

Berlin U-Bahn Stations

There are lots of brilliant things about Berlin – the parties, the music, the graffiti, the history, the little Ampelmannchen – but one of its unlikely stars is the U-Bahn.

Living in Manchester and putting up with buses and trams, it’s hard to believe quite how efficient the U-Bahn is. If you live in London with an extortionate Oyster card and unbearable overcrowding, you’ll still find it pretty unbelievable. The city is yours for a few euros per day, and it would be pretty easy to avoid paying even that. Along with the S-Bahn, the Berlin public transport network makes it so easy and fast to get around a sprawling city, usually with a seat and no pushing and shoving.

Practicality aside, the U-Bahn stations also have a certain modernist charm. Anything this efficient should surely be ugly, but the colourful tiling and jugendstil fonts really do it for me – Senefelderplatz is the nearest to the hostel I stayed in, but there are lots of better examples, like Wedding, Unter den Linden and Alexanderplatz. Stations like Rathaus Spandau, Heidelbergerplatz and Residenzstrasse are resplendently art nouveau, you can just imagine the 1920s & 30s bohemians heading home after a night of decadence. Then there’s the Zoologisher Garten, with its animal mural; I’ve yet to check out the zoo, its station or its fabled toilets, but with Berlin there’s always a next time.

But what intrigues me most about the U-Bahn is its history. When Berlin was divided by the wall, the U-Bahn was divided too. The line that ran from east to west had to be cut in half, with trains reaching the half way point and turning back. Meanwhile some lines were permitted to run through the Eastern sector, but not stop at any stations along the way. This resulted in U-Bahn ghost stations (Geisterbahnhofe) like Jannowitzbrucke and Potsdamer Platz; when they were reopened after the wall fell, they were perfect little time capsules from the 1960s. The thought of a whole station being sealed off and entombed underground for 30 years is pretty spine tingling – imagine shooting past on a rumbling train on the way to work, and catching a glimpse of the past. Update: awesome video

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