In 1991 while living briefly in Berlin I received a message to pick up a package at the post office located at “Gelehrter Stadtbahnhof,” the final S-Bahn (light rail transit) in West Berlin before crossing to the East. I went there and found an old sleepy station with two tracks in a quiet neighborhood. Alas, all the pictures I took that year, including many rolls of film from old East Berlin (still mostly unchanged a year after unification) were lost when I stupidly shipped home 27 rolls of film because I wanted to develop them more cheaply in the US. The box went missing and never arrived. However, I found a photo online of that old station:
That sight is now the home of the Hauptbahnhof. Lehrter Bahnhof has gone from an old sleep S-Bahn station to a modern marvel. Most train stations in Europe have a similar design, coming out of the late 19th and early 20th Century. Because train stations are necessary and can’t be easily relocated like airports (due to track layout), they get refurbished or upgraded, but keep the same basic design. In Berlin the new territory gained from the wall (which in most places was two walls with a good chunk of space between them) allowed them to design a completely modern train station, with multiple levels, shopping and an open glass theme.
The design of the train station is as unique as the city. Regional traffic departs from the lowest level, while S-bahn trains serving the Berlin area and high speed trains going to destinations all over Europe and Germany depart from the upper level. Inbetween are three levels of shops, food and services.
The Lehrter Stadtbahnhof served the city from 1871 on, originally as a terminal station for traffic from Hamburg and Lehrte, then after World War II simply as an S-bahn stop. Renaming it Hauptbahnhof was controversial. There had been a Hauptbahnhof in East Berlin, but that station had no historical claim to the name. It had only been called that since 1987 and had gone by a number of previous names. It is now called Ostbahnhof (East train station), the name it during most of the Cold War and is the third largest station in the city.
Most people wanted to keep Lehrter as part of the name, but fearing that would confuse people, it gets referred to simply as the main train station – though the signs do give homage to the past.
The station is perfectly located; it is within a short walk of the Reichstag building and Brandenburg Gate.
The area was sparsely populated because of the wall, and thus building new track connections and expanding the station was no problem. It is now part of a stretch running to the Potsdamer Platz that demonstrates the core of new Berlin – the Chancellery, Bundestag, Brandenburg gate, and Unter den Linden.
Over the coming days or weeks I’ll be blogging about my recently finished Germany trip, including reflections on other ways Berlin has changed, my view that the sovereign state is becoming obsolete, and how the Euro crisis is going to get solved — and create a stronger, more united Europe. But to start, I think the Berlin Hauptbahnhof is a real symbol of how the city has changed — and the process of transformation continues!