Sitting more or less opposite Berlin’s massive Hauptbahnhof on the Invalidenstraße is one of its predecessors, the Hamburger Bahnhof. It is almost inconspicuous, some distance away from the road, having assumed the guise of a modern art museum. In fact, the Hamburger Bahnhof has been a museum for much longer than it was ever a functioning railway station.
Of all the lost stations of Berlin, the Lehrter could be called the least successful from one viewpoint, and the most successful from another. Officially it still exists in name, and in reality it still exists in practice. Today, however, it’s called Berlin Hauptbahnhof, and it’s the busiest and biggest station the city has ever had. And when you started to look around, it has been even more important than you thought. But for a few reasons it never caught the public imagination in the way some of its sisters did.
Gorgeous, isn’t it? Once named the Küstriner Platz, this is today the Franz-Mehring-Platz in Friedrichshain (not to be confused with the far better known Mehringplatz in Kreuzberg). It’s dominated by the headquarters of Neues Deutschland, formerly the GDR’s state newspaper and now a marginal voice in the Berlin media landscape. It’s still housed in the building it once entirely occupied, along with various businesses and a furniture storage facility. The area has fallen upon hard times indeed, and the singularly uncharismatic, entirely too broad street doesn’t make things better.
Once, however, it was a lively area that housed a massive railway station. And no station in Berlin, and possibly the world, has seen a more diverse combination of uses than the Küstriner Bahnhof, once placed just north of today’s Ostbahnhof. During its life, it saw service as a station, restaurant, balloon workshop, and theatre. Sometimes simultaneously.
Diplomatic hotspot, cultural hub, war-torn battleground, cold war wasteland and revived urban center, the Potsdamer Bahnhof in Berlin has seen it all. Although it generally isn’t perceived as Berlin’s most important pre-war station today, in a number of ways there’s no denying that it was.
First of all, it was the oldest one, the bookend of the first Prussian rail line between Potsdam and Berlin. Secondly, it was in the best place: within walking distance of the Brandenburg Gate and Reichstag, and almost right up to the Potsdamer Platz, the city’s busiest intersection. The Leipziger Strasse, leading away from the square and the station, ran straight into the main city center, crossing the Wilhelmstraße – the home of most of government and diplomacy – and the Friedrichstraße, the city’s prime shopping street.
Note: this post remains a work in progress as I work on the other chapters. Feel free to comment directly, or get in touch via e-mail if you feel it could be improved.
Many who arrive in Berlin will do so by train. Thanks to Germany’s excellent railroad infrastructure, the journey is usually comfortable and quick, and drops you off right in the centre of the German capital. Granted, Hauptbahnhof is rather cramped for the amount of traffic it receives and it’s not fully hooked up to the subway station yet (a situation which is going to change quickly), but it takes only minimal effort to get wherever you need to go – even if that destination lies outside of the city.
Sometimes it is made out that “alternative” facts are a new, or at least phenomenon, but anyone enversed in the history of science can probably easily rattle off a few well-chosen examples. Sometimes, however, the division between what is “real” and “imagined” isn’t quite so clear, as the history of the search for living dinosaurs reveals.1
A World Lost?
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World (1912) is a strange but highly successful amalgam of adventure story and science novel, and probably his best-known work outside of the Sherlock Holmes canon. It has given rise to numerous film adaptations, including the one of the first appearances of ‘living’ dinosaurs on celluloid in 1925.
Doyle was likely inspired to write the novel after having spoken at a lunch at the Royal Society in 1910, in the presence of Robert Peary, who had just returned from his quest to discover the North Pole. In his talk, Doyle contemplated, in the light of the activities of Peary and others, whether there was any unknown part of the world left for writers of adventure stories to draw their inspiration from. Coupled with Doyle’s admiration for adventurists and his interest in paleontology, The Lost World was his answer to this question.2
Yeah, I wrote that. It has been out for a while in fact, but I forgot to put it on the blog somehow. Below, I will try to tell a bit more about it. Also, my publishers, University of Pittsburgh Press, posted a Q&A with yours truly at the time of the presentation we did at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh. If you don’t need more information and want to order it right away (which I obviously wholeheartedly encourage), this is one place where you might do so.
Last week, I spent some time in the truly amazing Vienna Natural History Museum – more about that later. Tucked away in a staircase between the second and third floors is a small exhibit about the history of the museum that devotes a lot of space to the early history of the collection (and virtually none to those seven years after 1938 the Viennese would rather forget about). In one of these cases I found the little statue you see to the right, a plaster concoction from a Dr. Friedrich König (which may have been this guy, although I rather doubt it).
As some of you will know, I spent the last six years working on my PhD thesis about the cultural, scientific, and political influence of Andrew Carnegie’s casts of the dinosaur Diplodocus carnegii (and one Diplodocus longus that Carnegie had nothing to do with) in the first decades of the twentieth century. I shall defend my thesis on Thursday, May 11th (yes, that’s next week). There are plans in motion to publish the book next year. If you’d like to be kept informed about those plans and the book, please leave your e-mail address here.
What is it about, this book? Well, to answer that all-too-obvious question I shall give a summary below.
Museums present their cultural treasures as tangible proof of historical events; robust sources of scientific knowledge and transparent cultural images for the public to identify with. Natural history museums show their fossil relics as incomplete but uncomplicated witnesses of life’s past.
(This is a repost of a short piece I wrote for the Shells and Pebbles blog a while ago, but I thought it would not be out of place here and have adapted the text somewhat. In addition, it gives me the opportunity to show off Heilmann’s whole Iguanodon picture, above).
The Danish artist-cum-scientist Gerhard Heilmann, who became famous for his book The Origin of Birds, published a little-known, short piece about Iguanodon a few years later, in an issue of Othenio Abel’s journal Palaeobiologica, dedicated to the Belgian paleontologist Louis Dollo. In many ways, this Iguanodon is much more ‘old-fashioned’ than his dynamic restorations in The Origin of Birds. First, it is positioned much more vertically. Although its tail doesn’t rest on the ground in the way that, for example, Charles Knight reconstructed his bipedal dinosaurs, it is still an altogether more stodgy-looking affair. This is further enhanced by the fact that the animal now looks very iguana- (and therefore reptile-) like.
The town of Valkenburg is located in gently rolling hills on the southern border of the Dutch isthmus of Limburg, bordered by Belgium to the south and west, and Germany to the east. For centuries, people have been mining the rich sandstone deposits in the area, and have thus stumbled upon numerous fossils. Perhaps none are more famous than those of Mosasaurus. The first of these was found in 1764 and now resides in the wonderful Teylers Museum in Haarlem (which also happens to be my part-time employer). The other, found around 1772, found its way to Paris through the evil machinations of the devious French (note that I’m not judging anyone).
As you might have guessed from the title of this blog, I have a bit of a ‘thing’ going for Albert Koch’sHydrarchos harlani. Last week, we were lucky enough to meet up with Hydrarchos (or part of her) in person, in the basement of the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin.