Entrance to U-Bahnhof Alexanderplatz photographed by a brilliant Berlin photographer, Willy Pragher, 12 March 1932. (image from the Willy Pragher Estate at Staatsarchiv Freiburg in Landesarchiv Baden-Württemberg, W 134 Nr. 000236).

The picture was taken two years after a massive refurbishment of the station: originally serving only Linie A (today’s U2), it was expanded to accommodate two further lines now known as U5 and U8. Line U5, originally Linie E, opened in December 1930 – almost exactly eight months after Linie D (also known as Gesundbrunnen-Neukölln-Linie, or GN-Linie).

The new underground station, designed by Peter Behrens and Alfred Grenander, also included a stump of a tunnel for another, long-planned but sadly never-realised U-Bahn line to Weißensee (although the project might be resurrected soon). Its Alexanderplatz platform was built next to that of Linie E/U5. The tunnel was later used as a depot for U-Bahn trains and later still parts of it served as an extention of a massive air-raid shelter built by the Nazis under Alexanderplatz during the war.

But on that sunny day in early March 1932, when Willy Pragher stood there with his camera waiting for the light and the shadows do their magic, the latter seemed both unlikely, unwished for and impossible.

(in Berlinerisch) “The lift ain’´t working, use yer legs, mate!” (image by notesofberlin)

“Berliners are unfriendly and inconsiderate, gruff and self-opinionated. Berlin is repugnant, loud, filthy and grey; construction sites and traffic jams wherever you walk or stand – yet I feel sorry for anyone who cannot live here!”

Anneliese Bödecker, social campaigner and generous supporter of many social causes; recipient of the 1999 Order of Merit of Berlin (the highest award granted by the Land of Berlin to no more than 400 living persons simultaneously).

Bahnhof Friedrichstraße (Friedrichstraße Railway Station) – whether you have ever been to Berlin or not, you must have encountered this name. You will find it in novels, in newspapers, in films and in history books.

From the moment it was completed in 1882 and opened as Berlin’s first central railway station (in the presence of Kaiser Wilhelm I), Bahnhof Friedrichstraße, has consequently played a huge role in Berlin’s history. The last chapter was probably the least glorious one: the station famously served as terminus for trains arriving from West Berlin and as a nearly insurmountable barrier for the travellers from the East (whose departures in the direction of the setting sun were strictly controlled and even more strictly regimented).

The postcard shows the station as it was in its original form – today’s looks practically nothing like it after the refurbishment carried out in the 1920s, additional “tweaking” in the 1930s and then, unavoidably, the World-War-Two “adjustments”.

But despite those extensive changes, one thing remained as it always was: the 160-metre long station building stands on a gentle curve and its body had to be constructed along that line. For not only was it erected on quite swampy ground but it also had to fit into the long line of land-plots used for erecting both the viaduct and the stations – a line consisting principally of the city’s own land: filled in canals, old royal wood storage sites, etc. And it had to fit into the gaps between the already erected buildings.

Vollmer Johannes (1845-1920), Bahnhof Friedrichstraße, Berlin. (In: Atlas zur Zeitschrift für Bauwesen, publ. by F. Endell, Jg. 35, 1885): seen from the south. Architekturmuseum der Technischen Universität Berlin Inv. Nr. ZFB 35,001.

You can see that curve very clearly from the outside, especially if looking at Bahnhof Friedrichstraße from the south: from Georgenstraße and from Dorothea-Schlegel-Platz (one of the those Berlin plaza’s whose name hardly anyone knows and hardly anyone realises that it is a legitimate plaza in the first place; vide Marlene-Dietrich-Platz). But it is upstairs, on the platforms that this curved line becomes most obvious. As it already was in 1882.

Bahnhof Friedrichstraße / Zentralbahnhof in 1882.
Photo by Wilhelm Hermes, Teknik- och industrihistoriska arkivet / Tekniska museet (ARK-K93-G4))

Learn more about Bahnhof Friedrichstraße and the area around it by joining me for my Voicemap.me walking audio-tour of northern section of Friedrichstraße (the audio-tour can also be purchased as a present for your befriended Berlin-fan).

Friedrichstraße is one of the best-known, most central streets in Berlin. Yet, it feels like the least appreciated, with most people hurrying along focused on getting somewhere else. And it is easy to see why: the street does not exactly invite you to linger. It is surprisingly narrow (just look around the corner at Unter den Linden!), has hardly any trees, and offers next to no chance to sit down and enjoy the view. But, contrary to some people might think, it is worth your while.

On my new walking audio-tour created together with Voicemap.me (my third audio-tour on their platform), I will take you on a walk along the northern section of the street to find the often-overlooked details hidden in plain sight.

Like no other street in this city, Friedrichstraße, with its 33 crossroads and one bridge, represents Berlin’s history in a nutshell. It has been part of nearly all of the city’s ups and downs and served as a venue for enough historic events to fill dozens of film scripts and history books.

In Berlin, it always pays to be curious. So, whether it is your first time in the city or you are a returning visitor or even a local wishing to explore it more, join me on my stroll and uncover the lesser-known or half-forgotten facts and places in and around this street. The idea of going on an audio-tour – something I am a big fan of myself – is especially appealing now, in the time of the pandemic and strictly limited social contacts. And it is a wonderful way of spending your time in Berlin, if – again like myself – you are very happy exploring the city on your own. All you need is your smartphone, headphones and the voicemap.me app you can download from the app-shop of your choice.

Allow just over an hour for this walk. COVID-19 regulations permitting, you can stop at one of the many cafes and restaurants you’ll be passing by en route. Or simply grab a cup of tea or coffee to go.

I hope you enjoy the tour! It was made with lots of love, lots of research and in sometimes freezing weather conditions – it was definitely worth it.

Please click the image to enter the audio-tour page.