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Category: Lost Termini of Berlin series

The lost termini of Berlin, Part 4 – Vacation Station: the Stettiner Bahnhof

Above me, the station clock flickers in the sun. It’s been broken for a year. Nobody knows why it hasn’t been repaired yet.

A fat, red-cheeked man, travel bag in hand, struts across while looking around searchingly. Already, a lady who, like me, stands around on the corner to earn money, is helping him. She calls him “Uncle” and “Sweetheart” so that he is completely moved and confides in her leadership. The other girls are annoyed that Emma has caught herself yet another one. “Man, look at her with that good-for-nothin'”.

— Hardy Worm, 1921

“Sraw hat widowers” on the platform at Stettin Station, 1901.

Until the end of the Second World War, the Stettiner Bahnhof, or Stettin Station, was also known as Vacation Station, the Urlaubsbahnhof. From here, Berliners escaped the capital’s sweltering summer heat by train, in order to cool off at the trendy resorts along the Baltic coast: Hiddensee, Rügen, Usedom – the places where German tourism was to a large extent invented. The Kaiser himself liked to visit the island of Hiddensee, and his people had followed in his wake. In the early summer, they would escort their families to the coast. In terms of passenger numbers, it was Berlin’s busiest.

The lost termini of Berlin, Part 3. The Anhalter: Grand Not So Central

When you walk up the stairs to the platforms, you become a traveler, and you’re no longer in Berlin. Munich, Switzerland, Italy, the whole of the south draws you up the gray steps. […] The Anhalter is a romantic station, one for dreamers. The platform ticket costs 10 pfennigs. For that, you can walk the whole time along the platform and marvel at the large sleeping cars with their lowered shutters. The signs with the names of far-away stations are like identity cards for those who sleep behind them.
— Heinz Berggruen, “Bahnhofsgedanken” (1935)

If you see someone tearing up about one of the old stations of Berlin, chances are it’ll be this one. The Anhalter Bahnhof was famed for being Berlin’s portal to far-away destinations in Austria, Hungary, Italy, and beyond. It looked the part, too, conceived in grand style in the late 1870s, when Germany had recently unified, Prussia had given the French a damned good thrashing, and confidence rode high.

The Lost Termini of Berlin, Part 7 – Hamburger Bahnhof, more than the sum of its parts

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.

The Lost Termini of Berlin, Part 8 – The Lehrter Bahnhof: Success and Failure

Lehrter train station. An atmosphere full of the haze of sulfur, the freedom to kiss, and bustle. The salty wind already up your nose. Ships and coal lie in the harbor. Invalidenstraße. Boys’ museums, stones, telegraph models and whale skeletons. Heidestraße.

— Joseph Roth, The “Romanticism” of Travelling

Of all the lost stations of Berlin, the Lehrter could be regarded 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.

The Lost Termini of Berlin, Part 9 – Küstriner Bahnhof, the weird one.

Nope, Not everything is smelling of roses yet in Friedrichshain.

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.

The Lost Termini of Berlin, Part 2 – Potsdamer Bahnhof: One for the price of three

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.

The Lost Termini of Berlin, Part 1 – A City to Arrive in

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.

Railway stations are magical places, full of promise. They introduce you to a new place at the end of your journey, or allow you to make your way to far-away locations. They introduce you to all sorts of people, from well-to-do businesspeople to those who live on the fringes of society. There’s a nervous energy around them, created by people looking forward to their journey, those trying to get oriented in a place that is new to them, or just those that should really have arrived a bit earlier and are now faced with the ignomy of running to catch a train – and probably just missing it.