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.