“The title ‘Berliner’ had nothing to do with geography. It was an honour granted for loyal service. Some got it even before they reached Berlin’s soil, others not after a whole lifetime spent idly on imperial asphalt. For Berlin “being there” and “BEING there” were not the same thing. The former, the mere ‘being’, meant nothing. No more than a word in your passport copied onto a hotel registration card.
Egon Jameson “Mein Lachendes Spree-Athen” (own translation)
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.
“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.
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.
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