Sunday, 19 January 2014

Bahnhof Potsdamer Platz

Bahnhof Potsdamer Platz

Potsdamer Bahnhof opened in 1838 and was Berlin's first railway station.In fact, it was on Prussia's very first railway line, connecting the towns of Berlin, Zehlendorf, and Potsdam. Stations were added at Schöneberg 1839 and Steglitz in 1839. The line was extended to Magdeburg in 1846.

The station was built in front of the Potsdamer Tor, just outside the Berlin Customs and Excise Wall, on land purchased from the Brüdergemeine community of Berlin and Rixdorf. The Brüdergemeine were (and still are) the protestant Moravian Brethren's Church, and they owned land around Berlin from the time when Friedrich Wilhelm I of Prussia gave asylum to 350 refugees from Bohemia in 1737.

Potsdamer Bahnhof grew rapidly to become the main terminus for long-distance and urban trains in Berlin, and with it grew Potsdamer Platz. From a collection of sleepy villas on the edge of the Tiergarten, the area became a busy, bustling hive of commercial activity and the down-town centre of Berlin.

Bahnhof Potsdamer Platz was badly damaged during the war, as was the whole of Potsdamer Platz, and closed to long-distance trains on 27th September 1945. When the Berlin Wall went up in August 1961, the S-Bahn station here found itself right under the Todesstreifen (death-strip) and became a ghost-station. S-Bahn trains would travel through it between East and West, but nobody was allowed to get on or off; armed guards could be glimpsed on the platform. This continued until the fall of The Wall in 1989.

Curiously, Bahnhof Potsdamer Platz and the land around it was owned by the borough of Mitte (East Berlin), even though it was on the border between Tiergarten (West Berlin - British Sector) and Kreuzberg (West Berlin - American Sector). So for many years the ruins of Bahnhof Potsdamer Platz became a no-man's land; beyond the Berlin Wall but not legally belonging to West Berlin. The land was eventually handed over to the West in a land-swap deal in 1972, though there was much protesting by squatters who had set up a small community of allotments there. Some of the disputed land can still be seen today as the narrow strip of the Tilla Durieux Park (the one with the giant see-saws) that lies over the North-South tunnel and runs down to the Landwehr canal.

After the fall of The Wall, the bare scrub-land of Potsdamer Platz witnessed a building frenzy, and was described as the largest building-site in Europe. Bahnhof Potsdamer Platz was rebuilt alongside the creation of the Sony Center et al and was officially re-opened to regional trains on 26 May 2006.

I find Bahnhof Potsdamer Platz today an eery place; silent and empty of life between trains, and dark and cold whatever the time of day or weather outside. The darkness is lit up by cold green-tinged lights and blue signs, pierced by shafts of artificial sunlight that come down from Potsdamer Platz itself, high above your head under a roof of concrete. It feels like a futuristic sci-fi set for a film about the aftermath of some apocalypse. The clinical cleanliness of stainless steel and cold marble add to the uneasy impression of a morgue. There isn't even any litter to indicate the presence of life. But then a regional train arrives, the platforms are filled with alighting passengers, and the bustle of the former Bahnhof is brought back to the present day.

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