A short trip around Berlin visiting the sites of its old railway stations.
Berlin is the German city that I am most familiar with. I first visited West Berlin in 1984, East Berlin in 1988, and I have been back to the reunified city many times since. Nevertheless, this is my first visit for more than 6 years and I am really looking forward to it. Tomorrow will be spent catching up with German friends, but first, I have decided to do a little tour by myself to stretch my legs and refresh my own memory of the place.
I have been researching the history of the city’s 13 railway termini, past and present, and so I have decided to make a quick journey around all of them. I will move clockwise around the city and visit the 6 stations that are still operational today as well as the sites of 7 that are no longer with us.
My detailed account of the stations listed in the order in which they were built and more on Berlin’s railway history is here – Berlin Termini – History
I will be travelling on foot, by tram, bus, U-Bahn, and S-Bahn and I will be making use of the “9 Euro ticket” that is on offer this summer and valid for all modes of transport not just in Berlin but across the whole country.
Not afraid to play the role of tourist, I have decided to start at the Brandenburg gate. As I go, I will be recalling my previous visits to Berlin, starting here with a photograph that I took almost at the same location back in 1988.
1) Friedrichstrasse (1882)
It is a short walk from the Brandenburg Gate to my first station. I turn left into Neustädtische Kirchstraße and then right to walk along the banks of the River Spree, looking to the left is the view of the Bundestag building with its distinctive glass dome.
In the opposite direction is Friedrichstrasse station with its platforms spilling out onto the bridge over the Spree. I wander up for a closer look and then pop inside.
Friedrichstrasse is on the Stadtbahn, the 12km cross-city railway that traverses Berlin from east to west, opened in 1882 and still in use today. All the remaining 6 stations that once served as long-distance termini are also located on the Stadtbahn. This station was probably the most centrally located of all Berlin’s termini. It is still in use today, although only for S-Bahn and regional services.
Outside the station on each side are two poignant memorials of two different eras. On the south side is the “Trains to life: trains to Death” memorial, recalling the contrasting fates of those Jewish children who travelled to England on the Kindertransport and those who were transported to the death camps.
On the north side there is the Tränenpalast, “the palace of tears”, the former immigration exit control building for the DDR. Now a museum, it tells the story of how the exit process used to work. In 1988 I remember crossing from the DDR back to West Berlin through this very station.
A short walk from the station brings me to the Unter Den Linden, perhaps the city’s most famous boulevard. I remember visiting here for the first time when this part of the city was still part of the DDR in 1988. The road on either side of the central walking path now seems much busier than it was back then; the path itself seems the same.
A walk east along this street reveals one of the true successes of the much-maligned East German regime: the restoration of classic buildings. Given the state of some of the bombed-out museums and theatres in 1945, it might have been easier to tear them down and replace with some 1950s style modernist mess, but thankfully the Communists made a real effort to reconstruct in the old style.
The result is a pleasing walk past the Staatsoper and the German Historical Museum on to Museum Island where the Altes Museum, Neues Museum, Pergamon Museum and Bode-Museum have all been beautifully restored.
Nevertheless, the DDR didn’t keep everything. The old imperial palace was lost and is only just being recreated. Whilst Berlin Cathedral was restored only after extensive donations from Western churches.
2) Alexanderplatz (1882)
As I get closer to Alexanderplatz, I pass the Rotes Rathaus (the Red Town Hall – named for its colour rather than its politics). It is worth a quick pop inside as the interior is quite impressive. The new U-Bahn station on the recently opened U5 extension is also worth a quick peep too.
I walk into Alexanderplatz, Germany’s largest city square. Originally a military parade ground and a market place, it became a transport junction when the railway station, another on the Stadtbahn, was opened in 1882.
Alexanderplatz was largely destroyed in World War Two and was extensively remodelled in the 1960s as a pedestrian zone home to a large shopping centre and surrounded by wide roads. East Berlin’s famous television tower, the Fernsehturm, was completed here in 1971 and still dominates the skyline of the whole city.
The “Weltzeithur” is another reminder of the DDR times, completed in 1969, the clock shows the time at various points around the world and is one of the city’s most popular meeting places. I walk around the square and then jump on a bus to my next station.
3) Ostbahnhof (1842)
The Ostbahnhof is undergoing a lot of repair work to its roof. Walking around the station is a bit difficult with all the construction work. It has changed a bit since I first arrived here back in 1988 from Moscow.
The station boasts 11 platforms and is the terminus for ICE trains arriving from the west, long-distance services heading east for Frankfurt and into Poland as well as regional and S-Bahn services.
I head up a street named after the Paris Commune and come to the only surviving building of the “Wriezener Bahnhof”, originally an extension of the Ostbahnhof but later a station in its own right. It closed just after the end of the war, but its main building remained and has recently been renovated and is looking good as a corporate headquarters.
4) Kustriner Bahnhof (1867-1882)
A few metres away, I reach the site of the first of the terminal stations that no longer exists: the Kustriner Bahnhof. In fact, the station only lasted 15 years and had already closed by 1882. Nevertheless, the terminal building saw a lot of other uses and survived until the Second World War.
The building that replaced it on the same site was used as the headquarters of a newspaper during the DDR time, but more recently it has become a famous nightclub: Berghain. I wander past and have a peep inside.
At the back of the building the former approach tracks to the station have been turned into Wriezener Park. It is quite a pleasant stroll, passing plenty of dogwalkers and joggers, along towards the bridge at Warschauer Straße. As I cross the bridge, I look back towards Ostbahnhof in the distance with the park I have walked through visible on the right.
Time for lunch and time for Currywurst. This dish, invented in the city in the late 1940s, is now available in every part of the country and beyond. I am a bit of a fan and the sliced-up pieces of sausage covered in curry tomato sauce sprinkled with curry powder has often formed my lunch at trade shows in Dusseldorf, Hannover and Hamburg. Yet here in the city of its birth, it always seems to taste that little bit better. I get mine from a stall opposite Warschauer Straße U-Bahn terminus and sit eating it whilst watching the traffic and the trains come and go.
I have been in what used to be East Berlin since the start of my trek at the Brandenburg Gate, so now as I am about to cross over to what used to be West Berlin, it is appropriate that there is a section of Berlin Wall to mark my passage. The East Side Gallery features some of the longest sections of the Berlin Wall remaining in the city. Perhaps ironically, in a reversal of the original, the colourful painted side faces east whilst the west-facing side is white.
Next, I walk over the fascinating Oberbaumbrücke, a double deck road and U-Bahn bridge marked with two distinctive towers. On the other side, I am in former West Berlin.
The next station along, Schlesisches Tor, was the terminus of the U-Bahn when the city was divided. I dip along Oppelner Straße to reach Gorlitzer Park.
5) Gorlitzer Bahnhof (1866-1951)
This massive green space was built in the early 1980s on the site of the old approach tracks to the Gorlitzer Bahnhof, itself largely demolished in the 1960s. There used to be a long pedestrian tunnel under the railway just as it emerged from the station, and although it has been filled in, it is still just about recognisable today.
The park is busy and very pleasant to walk around. As I stroll, it is very difficult to imagine this was once a busy terminal with trains arriving from Breslau and beyond.
After the closure and demolition of the grand passenger terminal, the old goods depot lived on and was connected to a track out to East Berlin. Some of the old buildings remain and are covered in graffiti.
The name of the old terminus still lives on as a U-Bahn station. I enter, climb up to the platform and board the next westbound train.
This was part of the first U-Bahn line to be constructed in Berlin and here it was built all above ground in the style of an elevated railway. I ride for 5 stations to Gleisdreieck.
6) Dresdner Bahnhof (1875-1882)
Considering it closed to passengers more than 140 years ago after a life of only 7 years, it is not surprising there is little trace of the terminal. Yet the area it occupied was turned into a postal station and elements can still be found in the Station Berlin complex that now occupies the site.
Nevertheless, the whole area around here still shows the signs of its former use by the railway. As well as those of Dresdner, the approach tracks of both the Potsdamer and Anhalter termini once occupied thousands of square metres of space here.
This “railway land” was very extensive and contained not only an intense network of sidings, but also the various goods stations, sidings and locomotive depots associated with the termini.
Much of it has disappeared now, but there are some things still remaining including the old Anhalter goods station.
The engine sheds of the old Anhalter Bahnhof now form the railway section of the German Technical Museum.
I have visited the museum many times before, but I pop in for another quick look. The museum features a wide collection of aircraft as well as trains.
7) Anhalter Bahnhof (1840-1952)
From the Technical Museum, I cross the bridge over the Landwehr canal and make my way under the U-Bahn bridge which used to span the approach tracks to Berlin’s grandest station.
As I have already seen at Kustriner and Gorlitzer, the old approach tracks to Anhalter Bahnhof have been turned into a green walkway.
At the end of the walkway is probably one of the saddest railway-related sites in the whole city. They demolished most of Anhalter but left just enough to show what was lost and what could have been saved. I wonder how Londoners would feel if all they had to look at was just a tiny piece of St Pancras in the middle of a field.
It is heart-breaking to see the remains of what was once one of the grandest stations in all of Europe. Standing in the ruined entrance of Berlin’s former “gateway to the south”, I think of all the people who walked through here on their way into or out of the city.
As with Gorlitzer (and stations I will see later; Lehrter and Stettiner) it was not the extensive damage from the war that condemned the station, rather the fact that the terminal lay in the western part of the city and its major destinations, Leipzig and Dresden, were in the east. Ironically, the Nazi plan for Berlin, “Germania”, also called for the closure of the station, although apparently it would have been turned into a swimming pool.
8) Postdamer Bahnhof (1838-1946)
I continue along Stresemannstraße and reach the site of Potsdamer Bahnhof. Once a wasteland with the Berlin Wall passing just a few metres away, in the last 20 years the area has been transformed. Now a new station, Potsdamer Platz, has been opened in the main line tunnel below.
Like in so many other locations, the old approach tracks have been turned into a park, but here with so many new tall buildings springing up on either side, the path the railway used to take out of the city is much clearer now than it used to be even a few years ago.
The new Potsdamer Platz has been recreated in a slightly different location, but a replica of the original traffic light tower that used to stand here has been restored near its original position.
I have a wander around the new Potsdamer Platz and then catch the 100 bus towards Zoogarten.
9) Zoologishcher Garten (1882)
The area around the Zoo was my first introduction to Berlin. I arrived here in 1984 on a train from Hannover having crossed the internal German border at Helmstadt, with a transit visa purchased from the East Germans.
This station, on the Stadtbahn, played an important role in the Cold War as the only main line terminal in the west of the city.
I walk to the ruined Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church and then loop back along the Kurfürstendamm, Berlin’s version of the Champs-Élysées. I recall arriving here at night from Moscow in 1988, and after two weeks of travelling around communist countries thinking how strange and wonderful all the bright lights were.
There is a shop here selling products based on the Ampelmännchen, the figures that appeared on the pedestrian crossings in East Berlin. The characters have become a symbol of the unified city and are everywhere now. I turn off the Kurfürstendamm and walk towards Savigny Platz.
The tree-lined streets with their pavement cafes are inviting and I cannot resist. What better place to stop than Princess Cheesecake, for an iced coffee and slice of the house German style?
10) Charlottenburg (1882)
Early evening and it is a lovely walk through the back streets of Savigny Platz and Charlottenburg. There are tables on the pavement everywhere and people are just settling in them for their dinner. Eventually I reach the station itself.
Charlottenburg is the most westerly of the stations on the Stadtbahn and the only one now without an overall roof. On the south side, the entrance is little more than an underpass, with the relatively modern main station buildings on the north side.
Like its Stadtbahn sisters, Friedrichstrasse, Alexanderplatz and Zoo, it no longer hosts long distance services, although there are stops by regional trains. I jump on the S-Bahn and head back along the Stadtbahn through Zoo towards the Tiergarten and alight at Hauptbahnhof.
11) Hauptbahnhof (2006 / Lehrter 1869-1951)
There is no denying that Berlin’s new central station is beautiful. The design is especially impressive in the way it allows light to flow down to the platforms in the tunnel far below. It is modern in design but also in many ways it is a perfect replacement for the lost termini.
The platforms on the Stadtbahn replace the stops that trains used to make at Zoo and Friedrichstasse, whilst the lower-level platforms can be considered replacements for Anhalter, Potsdamer, Stettiner and Lehrter stations.
It can certainly be considered as a worthy successor to Lehrter, the former grand terminal on whose site it now stands.
And, although the new building is a classic of modern architecture, there is just a slight nod to the old design of Lehrter which stood in exactly the same spot from 1869 until 1951.
12) Hamburger Bahnhof (1847-1884)
Just a short walk along Invalidenstrasse from the city’s newest station is Berlin’s oldest surviving terminal building, the former Hamburger Bahnhof. Perhaps it owes its survival to the fact that it ceased being a railway station before the end of the 19th century.
It was soon superseded by nearby Lehrter and until the Second World War it was turned into a transport museum. In fact, much of its old railway collection can now be seen at the Technical Museum mentioned earlier.
It fell into disuse during the cold war but has more recently been turned into an art gallery.
Just a short walk down from the museum is the River Spree, this marks my return into what used to be East Berlin and there are plenty of signs and information boards to mark the site of the former crossing point. Having crossed the river, I cross the road and head over to the tram stop.
Unlike West Berlin, the eastern part of the city kept parts of its tram network intact and today it has been modernised and in places extended in little sections across the old border. I jump on a tram and ride it for a few stops until I reach my last station.
13) Nordbahnhof (1842-1952)
The former Stettiner Bahnhof was Berlin’s gateway to the Baltic seaside resorts, so it is perhaps appropriate that there is a beach occupying the area where the main terminal building once was. “Beachmitte” claims to be Europe’s largest inner-city beach and features volleyball courts and the “Mountmitte” climbing frame.
A short walk away is the last remaining part of the old Stettiner Bahnhof, the suburban station building that used to sit just to the west of the main terminal. Now marketed as the Wartehalle it is an event venue hired out for conferences, weddings and parties.
Another brief walk south brings me to the largest of the two surface buildings of the still functioning S-Bahn station. The station, still called Nordbahnhof, is finished in modernist 1930s style and features a photo display of the old Stettiner Station in its foyer.
Amazingly, this was a so-called “ghost station” between 1961 and 1989 during which time its entrances were sealed off to residents of this part of East Berlin, and trains of the West Berlin S-Bahn passed through on the darkened platforms below. I even passed through myself back in 1984.
From Nordbahnhof, I make my way back down Oranienburger Straße. What better way to end the evening than with a few glasses of Berliner Kindl in a real Berlin Kniepe complete with a jar of eggs on the bar?
And to eat? Well, what about one of the city’s signature dishes: Eisbein? This is certainly one of my favourites; pickled ham hock, sitting on pease pudding and sauerkraut and served with some boiled potatoes. Fantastic.
And finally, a walk back down Friedrichstrasse past the latest incarnation of the brightly lit Friedrichstadt Palast theatre and then back to our first station to complete the circle for the day.