October 4, 2010 by Jools Stone
Yet more fascinating rail history today courtesy of Candice O’Reilly from Trav Addict. This time around we delve deep into the annals of Berlin’s subway stations, during the 28 years in which the city was divided by the Berlin Wall.
A Mini History of the Berlin Train System
Have you ever wondered what happened to the Berlin underground train system after the Berlin Wall went up? The Berlin local train system, the U-Bahn, began service in 1902, so the U-Bahn was very well established to travel to all parts of Berlin by 1961 when the Berlin wall went up. One would assume that this wall would wreak havoc on the train system, but in fact only one train line was even partly closed, the U2.
The U2 line traversed directly through the East-West boundaries of Berlin and each end of the line was on opposing sides of the wall. The line was closed down on the West side of Berlin, and two of the stations were converted into markets. Nollendorfplatz had old wooden U-Bahn carriages on the tracks that housed markets, and there was a shuttle train that traveled between Nollendorfplatz and Bülowstrasse station, which was converted into a Turkish Bazaar. On the East side of the wall, the U2 was still in use, but the end of the line became Thälmannplatz, the station closest to the Wall.
The more interesting fate however, what that of lines U6 and U9, which ran from the North to the South of West Berlin, but passed through East Berlin. Instead of closing down these lines, they closed the stations that ran through East Berlin, and allowed the trains to continue running. The stations that ran through East Berlin became ghost stations, with Soviet Guards manning these stations at all times.
Friedrichstraße was the only U-Bahn station in East Berlin which was on line U6 which remained active. Friedrichstraße was a cross point of the U-Bahn and the S-Bahn (the Eastern Soviet train system). It was only active due to it being a border crossing into East Berlin. To ensure no one from East Berlin attempted to escape into West Berlin by clutching onto the outside of the train, there was a cement tunnel built around the train line when the train crossed the borders of the wall. The tunnel was just wide enough for the train to pass, with only inches to spare around the actual train. These trains were not allowed to just pass through East Berlin without a price however. West Berlin paid 20 million German Marks per year for the train lines to pass through East Berlin.
When the wall came down, the ‘ghost’ stations in the East became alive again, and people all over Berlin spent weeks joy-riding on the trains to stations that were once forbidden. Many stations in East Berlin eventually had their names changed so the Soviet influence would be forgotten.
The famous U2 line which once ended at Thälmannplatz in East Berlin is now called Mohrenstrasse, and is a must stop for any trip to Berlin. This station not only used to be the end of the line for U2 in East Berlin, but the entire station is covered with red marble pillaged from Hitler’s Chancellory after it was destroyed at the end of WWII. This is not mentioned or recorded anywhere in Berlin, but standing in the station will touch you with the feeling of experiencing the war like almost nothing else in Berlin.
So, when you visit Berlin, travel on the U-Bahn, and remember to stop at Mohrenstrasse to see the marble walls. Afterwards take the U6 and stop at Friedrichstraße to imagine what is must have been like as a border crossing into East Berlin. As you pass the stations that once were in East Berlin, imagine what is must have been like to travel on these lines during the Cold War.
It’s simple things like these which make Berlin so fascinating. Everywhere you go, and everything you do was once affected by war in one way or another, even a simple train ride.
Candice O’Reilly, an Australian living in the USA, runs a travel website called TravAddict.com. TravAddict specializes in adventure travel on a budget. Check out the TravAddict blog to get budget travel tips and discover the history of many destinations.
Candice was a tour guide for many years and has worked in the travel industry and studied travel for her entire adult life.