I spent last weekend in Berlin, easily one of my favourite cities to visit. I checked out landmarks, visited museums, loitered in gay bars and generally soaked up the cultural vibe.
Berlin is renowned for its excellent public transport system. The city is criss-crossed by a dense network of rail routes: the U-Bahn (underground) and S-Bahn between them cover most of the city and parts beyond. Until now, though, I had always ridden the system purely for practical reasons: to get from A to B (or should that be Ä to ß?).
On Saturday morning, however, I decided to put my Station Master hat on and take a ride on the U-Bahn just for the hell of it, and to provide some content for this blog and its increasingly broad remit.
I chose to ride on line U3, for several reasons. First, it’s relatively short (just 7.5 miles) and I reasoned I could cover its 15 stations easily in one morning. Secondly, its one of the oldest parts of the network (opened in 1913) and I thought it may yield some historical secrets. I was right on both counts.
I was amazed to find that my train, when it pulled in to the station, was only two coaches long. Yes, it was Saturday morning and fairly quiet (despite the short length, nobody had to stand at all), but for someone more accustomed to the never-deserted London Underground, it was startling. The train I was riding on dated back to the early 1970s, which perhaps explains why every surface was covered by a mahogany veneer.
As we rode further out into the suburbs, the train gradually emptied out. The tunnels gave way to open air, although still in cutting for most of the way. We were soon rolling into Krumme Lanke, the line’s southwestern terminus.
The platforms are below street level; the staircase leads up to a spacious ticket hall where the former ticket office has been repurposed into a flower shop. Fans of London’s Piccadilly Line may spot a slight resemblance – Charles Holden, architect of the stations on that line’s 1930s extensions, was reportedly influenced by the design of this station. Unfortunately the original station building here fell into disrepair in the 1980s and was demolished, however an exact replica was built a few years later.
Time to get the sign pic. I feel a bit awkward taking selfies in front of British stations, but this was magnified tenfold in a foreign country. The picture looked okay on my phone screen, but looking at it now on the computer there’s a certain gormless expression on my face which I don’t care for.
Rather than ride the train back up the line, I decided to walk to the next station. I strolled along Argentinische Allee, a broad tree-lined boulevard. It was textbook suburbia, with all the usual scenes: a jogger on his morning run; an elderly man walking his dog; a husband taking out the rubbish.
A few minutes later I turned down a side street towards the fantastically named Onkel Toms Hütte station, whose name literally translates as “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”. The station serves a vast housing estate built between the wars.
Maybe it was the scaffolding at platform level, but I didn’t much care for this station. A small shopping centre has been crammed in around the station, making the island platform feel rather hemmed in. At least there was a glass roof which allowed some natural light to filter through to the platforms.
Name aside, this station is fairly unremarkable, so I didn’t want to loiter here too long before continuing down the line. I went back up to the entrance and got the sign pic. There’s a giant ALDI sign in the background, which seems somehow appropriate.
I rode a train to the next station, Oskar-Helene-Heim, which takes its name from a nearby hospital. The real prize is the station building, designed in 1929 by the German architect Freidrich Hennings. As with most U-Bahn stations, it is devoid of staff (all tickets sold through a machine). A small café took up some space in the entrance hall to give the building some life.
While I tried to get the sign pic, a man loitered in the station doorway. He was yakking away on his mobile phone but occasionally shot a suspicious glance my way. He was actually standing behind me (hidden by my massive face) as I took the photo. I beat a hasty retreat back down to the platform.
The next station, Thielplatz, is another delight. It’s an attractive red brick building, with an ornate clock above the entrance doorway. The “U” logo is inscribed into blue lanterns either side – I half-expected Dixon of Dock Green to pop his head out.
Just inside the entrance doorway are the old ticket windows, now bricked up. The torn information poster and the graffiti tags gave the interior of the station a slightly down-at-heel feel, which was a shame.
Another train, and another short ride later I was at Dahlem-Dorf. Now here is something special:
It’s a thatched roof. On an underground station. I’m no expert, but I think that’s fairly rare. All is not quite what it seems, however, as it is not real thatch. The station caught fire in 1980 and again in 2012, so the authorities decided to replace the roof with artificial, flame-retardant material.
Inside is also fairly spectacular, with wooden beams and ornate carvings. This is another building by Friedrich Hennings, who also built Oskar-Helene-Heim station, discussed earlier.
More awkwardness while taking the selfie, as a family stood nearby chatting amiably amongst themselves. I waited a couple of minutes in the hope that they would move off, but they stayed put. It didn’t help that I had to hold the camera in such a way that it looked like I was pointing it right at them. I hope they didn’t think I was some sort of creepy weirdo.
Yes, that photo makes me look completely normal.
Podbielskiallee, the next station, is another marvel. Another spacious ticket hall (no longer selling tickets) leads to this amazing facade. The early U-Bahn builders didn’t do things by halves.
We haven’t had a platform-level photo for a while. Most of the stations are fairly similar at platform level. Here, I just really liked the tiles on this platform building.
The station’s name is marked on the building in that Blackletter medieval-style font which died out long ago in most parts of the world, but continued in everyday usage in Germany well into the 20th century (examples of it can be seen elsewhere on the U- and S-Bahn systems). Apparently, legibility was not an important concern.
That’s the first six stations of line U3, but there are still another NINE to go! Come back soon for part two.