Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin
On May 12th, 1881 the fast developing company originally registered under the name of Telegraphenbau Anstalt Siemens & Halske presented its latest and, for many one of their most important, invention to the public.
In Berlin-Lichterfelde (then still just Lichterfelde) the first electric street-tram in history set off on its maiden voyage. It covered the distance of 2.4 km – the length of railway tracks built between Bahnhof Lichterfelde and the Hauptkadettenanstalt (Main Cadet School) for the construction of the latter – at a (then) mind-bending speed of up to 40 km/h.
In fact, Werner Siemens wrote later that what surprised and impressed the onlookers the most was the fact that the tram reached the speed of 30 km/h almost at once. From May 16, 1881 the trains on the new line would be running 12 times per day in each direction (albeit the pace at which they were to move was downgraded a bit: to 20 km/h) – something that a brand new time-schedule regulated with typically Prussian precision. Each of the street-cars could take 12 sitting passengers or up to 25 if also standing and well packed. The trains were powered through electrically charged tracks – touching the latter, especially both at once, could be a rather disturbing experience. It was, in fact, a lesson that many pedestrians and especially horses in the streets of Berlin were to learn soon.
Siemens’s new project marked the onset of a true revolution: May 12, 1881 was the beginning of a truly modern city transportation system as we know it – in Berlin but also in many other big and small cities worldwide.
At the time when their brand new electric tram took its first passengers, Firma Siemens & Halske still had its main seat in today’s Berlin-Kreuzberg: in Markgrafenstraße 94. They moved there from their original – also Kreuzberg – address in Schöneberger Straße 19.
The original electric train engine constructed by Siemens & Halske in 1879 and first presented during that year’s Berlin Industrial Exposition in Berlin-Moabit near Lehrter Bahnhof, has been on display at the German Museum in Munich since 1905. A replica of the first electric tram can also be admired – one can even sit on its benches – at Berlin’s Technikmuseum in Kreuzberg, only several hundreds metres away from the place where Siemens & Halske’s legend was born.
You will find the story of the first tram and many other interesting tales from the history of Berlin’s public transport in my book, “Notmsparker’s Berlin Companion”.