Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin
Today, Berlin is known for its U-Bahn and S-Bahn network as well as its highly efficient system of buses, trams and ferries. But between 1907 and 1913 Berlin tested yet another form of public transport: suspended railway or Schwebebahn.
This was not the first time the city toyed with the idea. It was first picked up as early as 1895, when Barmen and Elberfeld, two industrial cities in the Prussian region of Wuppertal (in 1929 they merged into one city called Wuppertal) decided to provide a new means of public transportation in what was a difficult terrain. Barmen – hometown to Friedrich Engels, famous German philosopher, journalist and social scientist as well as Karl Marx´s best friend and supporter – and Elberfeld were both located in a 20-kilometre long and rather narrow valley of the River Wupper.
The new suspended railway line was constructed basically along and above the river itself, using what was a natural free space within an otherwise heavily populated and built over industrial area. No wonder Berlin became quite enthusiastic about the system, too: it seemed like a wonderful solution for a city whose streets were already then bursting at seams due to the impossible volume of traffic – a city whose only viable option was building along the already existing street “canyons”.
And so, the suspension railway which the city councillors considered at the time was to be modelled on the one being constructed in Wuppertal (today, the line is a world heritage item and still in use). However, as with most of its large-scale projects at the time and later, Berlin decided to wait and see what the outcome elsewhere would be.
After in 1897 the Barmen-Elberfeld line´s opening had to be postponed due to the costs exploding and works not being carried out as planned, a similar project for Berlin was duly rejected. The Schwebebahn´s official opening ceremony in October 1900 (the public could use it from January 1901), a splendid event attended by a pretty much dazzled Kaiser Wilhelm II – he and his spouse travelled in a special Kaiserwagen which is still in use in Wuppertal today – did not help change Berlin´s authorities´ mind.
In the meantime, namely, they had chosen to support a public transport system project by a local engineer and entrepreneur: Werner von Siemens´s Hoch– and Unterpflasterbahn (elevated and “sub-pavement” or underground) railway.
But the idea of suspended railway in Berlin returned in 1902 when another company, Continentale Gesellschaft für elektrische Unternehmungen, applied for a construction permit for a line pretty much modelled on the Wuppertal one again. This time the city, still looking for the best solution for a north-south line between today´s Wedding and Neukölln, agreed to at least give it a try. In order to see how the new line would fit into the cityscape a 100-metre-long test line was built in the 22-metre wide Brunnenstraße, just before Rosenthaler Platz, in Mitte.
It consisted of three sections, each designed by a different and highly-respected architect: Alfred Grenander, Bruno Möhring and Sepp Kaiser. The decision-makers hoped that this variety would help them choose the best as well as the most attractive option. If built, the 11.9-kilometre line was planned to have 17 stations: Gesundbrunnen, Lortzing-Straße, Bernauer Straße, Invaliden-Straße, Rosenthaler Thor, Schönhauser Thor, Alexanderplatz, Jannowitz-Brücke, Schmid-Straße, Moritzplatz, Prinzen-Straße, Grimmstraße, Hermannplatz, Amtsgericht, Hohenzollernplatz, Rixdorf und Britzer Grenze (all names with original spelling used for the project).
The project, however, was scrapped in 1912 after Berlin’s AEG (General Electricity Company), convinced the city authorities to their idea of building a new underground line instead: the GN-Bahn, running from Gesundbrunnen to Neukölln, today known as the U8.
The no longer needed test elements of the Berliner Schwebebahn were dismantled soon afterwards – they vanished forever in 1913.
The following story – in an abridged version – is part of the Chapter “Einsteigen, Bitte!” in my book “Notmsparker´s Berlin Companion” (available online and in selected Berlin bookshops) as well as of a new book, “Kreuzberged – Berlin Companion” (to be published July 2017):-)