Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin
Berlin’s first U-Bahn line, which was, perhaps a bit confusingly, an elevated railway line, built by Siemens and Halske, opened to the public on 18 February 1902 at 5:25 AM. The first trains – filled with excited passengers – ran between Stralauer Tor, a station which no longer exists at the northern end of Oberbaumbrücke, and Potsdamer Platz station in Mitte (sadly, gone as well); Warschauer Brücke, one of the terminus stations on today’s U1 (known since 1995 as Warschauer Straße), did not open until 17 August 1902.
However, before any regular citizens could experience the pleasure of travelling on a ‘flying’ train, the new line, or “Stammstrecke” (Core/Stem Line) comprising parts of today´s lines U1 and U2, needed to be tested by experts and approved by the men in power: the trial runs of the new elevated line went for almost a month since 26 January 1902.
Almost three weeks later, another important group boarded two special trains: the Ministerfahrt (Ministers’ Ride) left Potsdamer Platz station at 11 AM on 15 February 1902 – exactly 116 years ago today – and was attended by high-rank officials, members of the military, Siemens and Halske employees, as well as representatives of the three municipalities – Berlin, Charlottenburg and Schöneberg – involved in the project.
Also among the guests were the line’s main designers: architect Alfred Grenander, Heinrich Schwieger (the chief engineer at Siemens and Halske as well as the project’s head engineer) and Paul Wittig, the man in charge of the Hochbahngesellschaft (a company established to carry out the project), who had designed the most challenging section of the viaduct: the bridge spanning the Landwehrkanal between Möckernbrücke and Gleisdreieck.
The guests travelled along the newly built viaduct towards Zoologischer Garten station – this section of the Hochbahn, known as the ‘Westliche Stammstrecke’ would not open to the public until 11 March 1902 – and after a brief stop there, they made their way back east, through ‘Gleisdreieck’ and along Landwehrkanal towards Stralauer Tor. Afterwards, both trains returned to the stop ‘Potsdamer Platz’ where they had started. However, to everyone’s great disappointment, Kaiser Wilhelm II did not join the party.
Allegedly, the emperor was not fond of the novelty.