Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin
Many places in Berlin continue to exist today in nothing but curious, often old-fashioned names. Gone is the ski-jump which was the namesake for Zehlendorf’s Sprungschanzestraße; gone the vineyards and the winemakers who inspired Weinmeisterstraße, Weinbergspark (Volkspark am Weinberg) or the original name of today’s Kreuzbergstraße, Weinmeisterweg; gone the Schöneberger Hafen, once a Landwehrkanal harbour which lives on in the name Hafenplatz, a small plaza and a little park built on its site.
One of the most famous vanished Berlin locations whose name continues to be present in the city’s life to this day (even if its fame is more of infame really) is Görlitzer Bahnhof. Most people associate it with the U-Bahn station of the same name – U-Bhf “Görlitzer Bahnhof” on the U1/U3 line – unaware of the fact that the station erected by Siemens & Halske on the crossing Skalitzer-, Wiener- and Oranienstraße was itself named after another railway stop. One which is gone.
The original Görlitzer Bahnhof, the northern terminus of the Berlin-Görlitz Line, opened for passenger service on September 13, 1866 (until December 1867 the trains on the line travelled only between Berlin and Cottbus). The station – designed by a renowned Berlin architect, August Orth, who also created the nearby Emmauskirche on Lausitzer Platz, Zionskirche in Prenzlauer Berg and another wonderful Berlin railway terminal, Stettiner Bahnhof (also destroyed) – comprised four sheds (including a polygonal engine shed) and the main building housing a double-arched arrival/departure hall.
Although erected using a typical red brick stone, its façade shone yellow in the middle of then still pretty much empty field: to make the station appear brighter and less oppressive-looking the red-brick façade was covered with a layer of elegant yellow Birkenwerder brick stones.
The same trick was employed, by the way, in many other, mostly municipal, buildings all over Berlin: better quality yellow bricks, far too expensive to be used as the sole building material, were an excellent weapon in the fight against all nineteenth-century city dwellers’ plight: lack of light. Birkenwerder Verblendungsziegeln (coating stones produced in Birkenwerder) or those baked inside the ring ovens in Hermsdorf helped architects brighten up dark school courtyards, murky railway station interiors or dense hospital sites.
Görlitzer Bahnhof became the heart of a private railway line built by a man known as the Prussian Eisenbahnkönig, the Railway King: Bethel Henry Strousberg (actually Baruch Hirsch Strousberg). His investment in the line connecting Berlin with Görlitz (divided after 1945 it is now two towns: German Görlitz and Polish Zgorzelec) paid off soon and nothing seemed to stand in the way of his bold plan to extend the line to Breslau (now Wrocław) and then further to Vienna.
Sadly, Strousberg’s star was slowly sinking and when the man eventually went under, it happened to a loud applause (and pretty much undisguised satisfaction) of Prussia’s many high-rank, anti-Semitic ill-wishers. Nothing seemed to make the latter as happy as reading Berlin press’s daily reports about the misfortunes of the man they considered to be a nouveau-riche pariah. His eventual loss of the pompous Palais Strousberg, a splendid mammoth residence he had built for himself and his family in Wilhelmstraße 70 (another one of August Orth’s designs) was most likely accompanied by loud grunts of Schadenfreude and quiet explosions of popping Sekt corks.
But in September 1866 the world was still Bethel Henry Strousberg’s oyster. The new station brought sighs of admiration and excellent reviews from the experts. With its 148-metre long and 37-metre wide main hall, it offered enough space for both the arriving/departing trains and their passengers. With two side platforms and a slightly wider platform in the middle it looked well-planned and convenient.
The line it served soon became one of the busiest in Berlin and Prussia: it not only led to the rash development of Berlin’s suburbs (Schöneweide, Grünau, Schmökwitz or Königs Wusterhausen were suddenly in nearly anyone’s reach and quickly turned into favourite weekend and summer spots). It also enabled tens of thousands of poor residents of Silesia to try their luck in the capital. Today, you will find their traces in the names of the streets surrounding the former Görlitzer Bahnhof grounds: Lausitz, Oppeln, Liegnitz, Sorau, Ohlau, Glogau were places where their journey began only to end in today’s Kreuzberg.
Extended to Görlitz on December 31 1867 the line and the station were also crucial for freight transport: Görlitzer Bahn trains provided Berlin with food, wood, textiles, steel and, perhaps first and foremost, with coal. Silesian coalmines produced “the black gold” so needed by Berliners, Berlin’s factories and Berlin’s gasworks, like those in Gitschiner Straße. The latter relied on the old tracks of the original Berlin city railway line, the 1850s Verbindungsbahn: those rails connected it directly with the Wrangelkiez (then Schlesischer Viertel, or “Silesian District”) terminus station.
But by the early 1930s Görlitzer Bahnhof’s faults began to trump its initially praised merits: it was too small, the district around it too dense, access too complicated. New plans, involving building a new S-Bahn tunnel from Anhalter Bahnhof, saw it as redundant. The outbreak of the Second World War put an end to any further plans or discussions.
The station survived the war in an astonishingly good condition: the main building was practically intact even if the tracks and the sheds suffered quite extensive damage. It stood very good chances of being restored and used again but the station’s fate seemed to be sealed on April 29 1951 when the last train departed for Königs Wusterhausen.
Between 1961 and 1967, despite heavy protests organised by residents of the area around it, the still standing Görlitzer Bahnhof buildings were torn down. Initial plans to use the site to construct new tenements never took off. Neither (perhaps luckily for us all) did plans of having the southern tangent of Berlin motorway run right through it and along Oranienstraße.
Instead, between the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s it was converted into a public park. Today, only a tiny part of the old station remains: the old administration building housing a popular restaurant and café, “Das Edelweiss” as well as the historical loading ramp right next to it. Most of the brick wall along Görlitzer Straße (named after the station) is original, too.
Before it vanished, however, it had its short come-back as a star – it served as a film setting for the 1966 spy film starring the excellent Michael Caine as a maverick British spy, Harry Palmer. “Funeral in Berlin”, based on a novel by Len Deighton, was a follow-up to the 1965 “The Ipcress File” and preceded by a year the third Harry Palmer film, “Billion Dollar Brain”.
The newspaper clipping below comes from the Berliner Gerichts-Zeitung from September 13 1866: it announced the opening of a new railway service from Görlitzer Bahnhof to Cottbus: the first train left at 7 AM from Cottbus to Berlin and began its return journey at Görlitzer Bahnhof at 2 PM. That journey would last between five and six hours.