Berlin termini – History

A lot has been written over the years about the history of the Berlin’s terminal stations.  This is my own modest account.

It is divided into 4 parts. Unless otherwise stated, all photographs are in the public domain or my own work.


The first five termini and a connecting line  

1) Potsdamer Bahnhof (1838-1946)

The Potsdamer Bahnhof was Berlin’s first railway terminus.  The first line was opened from here in 1838 and linked the city with Potsdam 26km away.  The first train was hauled by the British-built Adler (Eagle) locomotive. Over the next few decades, the tracks were extended west, first to Magdeburg, and then further into the lands that would eventually become Germany.  The station was rebuilt in 1872 and by the end of the 19th century it was handling passengers from Cologne, Frankfurt (Main), Paris and Strasbourg.


From the early 1890s on, the main terminal was supplemented by two suburban stations, positioned slightly to the south of the long-distance platforms.  The first, the Ring Bahnhof, was located on the eastern side and served as a terminus for trains using the Berlin Ring Railway (opened 1877) around the edge of the city and for trains to outer-suburban destinations to places like Zossen and Lichterfelde.


Services from the Ring Bahnhof were electrified (third rail 750V dc) from 1926 and eventually became part of the S-Bahn in the 1930s.   On the western side was the Wansee Bahnhof that handled suburban trains to nearby Wansee; this line also became part of the S-Bahn and was electrified in 1933.


The combined traffic created by these three stations meant that Potsdamer Bahnhof was always Berlin’s busiest.   The area in front of the station, Potsdamer Platz, became Berlin’s most famous traffic junction, perhaps akin to Piccadilly Circus in London.

Model at German Museum of Technology

In 1939 the Wansee Bahnhof was closed, and its tracks diverted underground as part of a new north-south S-Bahn link across the city to Stettiner Bahnhof.  The main line and Ring stations and their approach tracks were largely destroyed by wartime bombing and had closed for good by 1946.

Model at German Museum of Technology

After the war, the divided nature of Berlin meant that there was no attempt to rebuild the station or restore any of it services. In fact, the whole area around the station including Potsdamer Platz found itself right at the centre of the division; after 1961 the wall was constructed almost through its centre.


Since 1990 the area has gone under one of the biggest transformations in the whole city, a new Potsdamer Platz has been created, and a new station for regional trains on the new North-South line link has been built underground.  Where the old station and its approach lines once stood is now a park.


2) Anhalter Bahnhof (1840-1952)

The Anhalter Bahnhof opened two years after the nearby Potsdamer Bahnhof; initially serving trains to Jüterbog and then on towards Halle.   The original terminal was of modest construction, but as traffic grew and destinations expanded, a new station on a much-enlarged scale was planned.

Schwechten Franz (1841-1924): Anhalter Bahnhof in Berlin (1876-1880)

When it opened in 1880, it was the largest station in Germany.   The new terminal served Leipzig, Frankfurt am Main and Munich and then inherited more destinations when the Dresdner Bahnhof (see Part 2) was closed in 1882.

Model at German Museum of Technology


By the late 19th century, the Anhalter Bahnhof had become the city’s gateway to southern Europe and was serving destinations as far away as Italy and Greece. Although never as busy as nearby Potsdamer, its six platforms served far more long-distance trains than its older neighbour.


Although, unlike most of the other termini in Berlin, the Anhalter was mostly a long-distance station, it became linked to the S-Bahn network in 1939 when underground platforms were opened at the station on the new North-South S-Bahn line.


The station was extensively damaged by a large bombing raid on 23rd November 1943. Further raids in early 1945 completely closed it.  After the war the station was reopened to a limited extent after repairs, but it found itself in West Berlin whilst most of its destinations, Leipzig and Dresden etc., were in East Germany.  Services to these places were eventually diverted to the Ost Bahnhof in East Berlin and the last trains ran into the old station in 1952.

Berlin, Ruine des Anhalter Bahnhofes
Bundesarchiv, B 145 Bild-P054491 / Weinrother, Carl / CC-BY-SA 3.0

The building and the approach tracks were left derelict for a further 8 years before being demolished in 1960. A small section of the frontage was left as a memorial to the history of the station.  The area today is covered by a large park.  Ironically, the underground S-Bahn platforms opened in 1939 are still in use and still bear the name of the long-gone terminus.


3) Stettiner Bahnhof (1842-1952)

Opened in August 1842, the Stettiner Bahnhof was originally the terminus of the line north to Stettin. It was then expanded to serve trains heading to Stralsund, Rostock and resorts on the Baltic Sea.


Eventually, it became especially popular with holidaymakers heading out of the city. The station building was rebuilt in 1877 and then expanded again in 1903. Three smaller halls were built to the east of the main station to handle extra summer traffic.


A freight terminal was also constructed in 1877 to the east of the main station.  Then known as the Nord Bahnhof, it briefly saw passenger traffic when Stettiner was undergoing renewal between 1892 and 1898. It finally closed to freight in 1985 and the site is now a park.


Meanwhile, back in 1896 a separate suburban station was opened on the west side of the main building. This terminal served stopping trains heading short distances up the three main lines radiating from Stettiner Bahnhof.  These lines were early candidates for electrification and became part of the S-Bahn in 1930.  From 1936 they were diverted into the North-South S-Bahn tunnel with a new underground station constructed at Stettiner.


The main station was heavily bombed during the war. Services resumed afterwards but although the station itself was in East Berlin, the fact that the approach lines went through West Berlin condemned it. The last trains ran in 1952 and the station had been demolished by 1962.


In 1950, given that the city of Stettin now lay in Poland, the station had been renamed Nord Bahnhof.  That name was also applied to the underground S-Bahn station.  That station closed in 1961 although trains linking north and south West Berlin continued to pass through without stopping.


In 1990 the S-Bahn recommenced calling at the station again. Today, it is still known as Nord Bahnhof even though the surface station of that name has not existed for 70 years.  The site of the old terminus is now a park. The old suburban station building still exists and is used as an event centre.


4) Frankfurter Bahnhof (1842- )

The fourth station to open in the city is the oldest one still to have trains running from the same site today. Nevertheless, over the years it has gone through several phases of rebuilding and various name changes.  The first station on the site was opened as the terminus of the railway to Frankfurt (Oder) with services later extended to Breslau in Silesia. After being rebuilt in 1870, it was remodelled totally from 1882 and with the opening of the Stadtbahn in 1886 (see Part 3) it changed from being a dead-end terminal to a through station.


Around about the same time it changed its name to Schlesischer Bahnhof (Silesian Station) and with the closure of the nearby Ostbahnhof (Küstriner Bahnhof – see Part 2) inherited services from the East Prussian line to Danzig, Konigsberg and on towards the Russian Empire.  The station developed as the main gateway to the east with services to Vienna, Budapest, Constantinople, Moscow and St Petersburg.

Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-J00861 / CC-BY-SA 3.0

In 1924 some of the station’s northern platforms were renamed as a separate terminal: Wriezener Bahnhof.  That station closed for passengers in 1949 but was used for freight for several years before final abandonment and removal of the approach tracks.  The station building remains though and has recently been refurbished.


The main station was heavily damaged during World War Two and was rebuilt afterwards, being renamed Ostbahnhof in 1950.  It now became the main terminal station in East Berlin with trains running to destinations like Dresden and Leipzig that had previously been served by other pre-war terminals that now found themselves in West Berlin. International trains linking Poland and Russia with West Germany, Belgium and France also served the station.

Berlin, Ostbahnhof, Hauptportal
Zentralbild-Funck Mü-Ho. 7.4.1954 Berlin 1954 CC-BY-SA 3.0

The 1950 building was demolished in 1987 and replaced by a new structure, with the station being renamed Berlin Hauptbahnhof at the same time.  After the wall came down the number of long-distance services using the Stadtbahn and the station itself increased with links to major West German cities restored.


After being renamed yet again, back to Ostbahnhof, in 1998, the station was remodelled with its new buildings opening in 2002.  With the opening of the new Hauptbahnhof in 2006, the number of long-distance services using the station has been again reduced but there are still regular services to Hannover, Frankfurt (Main), the Ruhr, Aachen, Basel and Amsterdam in the west, and to Frankfurt (Oder), Cottbus and Poland in the east.


5) Hamburger Bahnhof (1847-1884)

The fifth and final station built within the first decade of railways in Berlin was the Hamburger Bahnhof.  It opened as the terminus of the Berlin to Hamburg Railway in 1847 and served this purpose until 1884 when the expanded Lehrter Bahnhof (less than 0.5km to the west) began taking its traffic.  The station closed and, after use as an office building, in 1906 it became the new Royal Museum of Building and Transport, with a collection of railway-related exhibits.


The museum was bombed during the war, but the collection mostly survived.  After the war the museum was in the British sector but there were arguments over the collection, ostensibly owned by the East Germany.  In 1984 an agreement was finally reached, and the former exhibits were transferred to the Museum of Technology in the south of the city.


Meanwhile, the old station was refurbished and in 1996 finally reopened as an art museum. Ironically, whilst it is one of the shortest lived of the city’s termini, it is the oldest remaining Berlin station built in neoclassical style.


Verbindungsbahn (1851)

With five terminal stations already surrounding the city by the late 1840s, plans were put in place for a street railway to link them up and facilitate the easy transfer of freight between them.  Laid on the streets of the city in the form of a tramway, the first section of Verbindungsbahn (literally: connector railway) was opened between Stettiner and Hamburger stations in 1850. Extensions south to Potsdamer, Anhalter and Frankfurter stations followed quickly.


The tracks at street level meant that the little connector steam locomotives were always fighting for space with pedestrians and horse traffic. As the city grew, the problems worsened with locomotives often getting stuck in the middle of roads, and residents complaining about the smoke, noise and dirt.

Verbindungsbahn locomotive

Only ever used for freight transfer, the connector railway didn’t last long.  Apart from a short section kept in order to service a gasworks, it was mostly gone by 1871.  Its role connecting Berlin’s railways was ultimately taken by the Ringbahn, the first section of which opened in the same year.

Link to Berlin Termini – History / Part 2