U-Bhf Oranienstraße (now “Görlitzer Bahnhof”) in 1902, the year the line opened.

On February 18, 1902 the first Hochbahn line, now known as U1, opened for public service in Berlin: Berlin’s U-Bahn network, the heart of the BVG (Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe or “Berlin Public Transport Company”) was born. Three days earlier a historic event known as Ministerfahrt (Ministerial Round) took place, marking the official debut of the new transport system.

By now this network stretches over nearly 153 kilometres and covers 174 stations (by the end of 2021 two more are planned to open) placed both under and the over the ground. Siemens & Halske, the company behind the network’s original concept, as well as the great people behind the original Hochbahn/Unterpflasterbahn project (Unterpflaster stands for “sub-pavement”- which explains the name U-Bahn) foresaw this development.

To find out more about the origins and the peculiarities of the original section of this incredible public transport system, take a walking audio-tour of the old eastern Stammstrecke (Core Line) and enjoy “Take The U Train: Berlin’s Oldest Elevated Railway Line Part I” (you can also listen to it at home following the route on Google Streets or on a regular Open Street map).  The audio-tour is available via Voicemaps.

It is a downloadable 120-minute long series of recordings telling the story of the line’s genesis, its designers, engineers as well as critics and supporters, and explaining why its winding viaduct is a marvel of engineering and its stations a thing of beauty even if some of the eastern U1 stops (like “Kottbusser Tor”) might seem uninviting.

Let me take you back in time to the days when none of today’s comforts were obvious and when the arrival of the new city railway line was considered by a blessing by some and by a curse by others. We can safely say that history and time proved the latter group wrong.

You can listen to the audio-tour while walking/driving along today’s U1 line (start at U-Bhf Warschauer Straße and end at U-Bhf “Gleisdreieck”) or you can enjoy it as continuous listening from home or any other location. To download use VoiceMap app (you can listen to the tour while walking with recordings triggered manually or triggering automatically per GPS) or visit their page online.


View down Belle-Alliance-Platz towards Belle-Alliance-Brücke (Hallesche Brücke today) captured by F.A. Schwartz in 1895. Several years later the Hochbahn viaduct will appear behind the characteristic square buildings in the background, known as Magistratklaviere (Council Pianos). Image via Berliner Landesarchiv.

Belle-Alliance-Platz. The name whose melodious sound equalled the beauty of the place it stood for. Built as the Rondell, one of the three magnificent new plazas designed in the eighteenth century by Philipp Gerlach and inspired by the three grand Parisian squares, it developed over time into what many considered to be the most splendid among all Berlin courts.

Until 1943, when some of the heaviest Second-World-War air-raids, like a giant grinder, left Berlin’s centre in ruins and ashes. As part of the southern Friedrichstadt, Belle-Alliance-Platz suffered particularly grave damage – the Landwehrkanal flowing past it at Hallesches Tor and the plaza itself served as points of orientation for the allied bombers.

Belle-Alliance-Platz in 1912 (view north). Image PD.

After the war, new urban-planning projects turned the old plaza into what it is today: despite (mostly) best intentions and some of the most renown architects having been involved in its design (like the legend of German architecture, Hans Poelzig) it produced a weird fruit – a “space oddity”. A place soaked in heaviness and one which – whatever efforts have been made to change that and many have been so far, especially in the recent years – always feels strangely heartless. You do not stroll on Mehringplatz. You scuttle through or fly past it.

Belle-Alliance-Platz in 1935. Image via Landesarchiv Berlin.

By the way, the name – Mehringplatz – was chosen to honour German historian of Communism and Marxism, publicist and politician Franz Mehring, born in Pommeranian town of Schlawe (today’s Sławno and coincidentally also the author’s birthplace). It honoured him as one of the men and women active in the headquarters of German Social-Democracy, Vorwärts-Haus in Lindenstraße – the building on the edge of Belle-Alliance-Platz was one of the very few which survived the bombings and the Untergang but were demolished later.

View of the old plaza – by then Mehringplatz – from the platform U-Bhf Hallesches Tor. Photo from July 1957 by Willy Pragher via Landesarchiv Baden-Württemberg

On February 16, 1946 the no longer existing Belle-Alliance-Platz was renamed Franz-Mehring-Platz but by July 31, 1947 the name was shortened to Mehringplatz. Which turned out very convenient when in 1972 the old Küstriner Platz in Berlin-Friedrichshain, a plaza in front of the old Küstriner Bahnhof and the site for the main building of the East German daily, the “Neues Deutschland”, had its name changed to Franz-Mehring-Platz.

Looking at Mehringplatz today it is hard to believe that less than a century ago the plaza at the southern end of Friedrichstraße was a place to behold. If there is one place in central Berlin which could do with some reconstruction or even blatant replicas, then this must be it. Sadly, the chances of that happening are, to put it mildly, poor.

With Mehringplatz as a densely populated residential area surrounded by a towering Plattenbauten (high-rises), the only hope anyone can have of the plaza becoming less estranged is to see its charming central ring – with a historic Cantian Friedensäule – finally left in peace. After it had been renovated and the surrounding statues of sitting muses cleaned and restored as well, it has become stuck in a sad groundhog-day cycle of an endless construction site involving the underground station “Hallesches Tor” placed right underneath it.

Mehringplatz seen from above in 1975 – the high-rises placed on the northern edge of the plaza were meant to shield the plaza itself from the noise of the never-built motorway (Südtangente).

The Berlin curse of “always becoming and never being” is nowhere as palpable as in the shade of the old Belle-Alliance-Plaza in Kreuzberg.


Berlin of the 1980s was a magnet attracting new people, new bands, new artists. The city’s imperfection, its messiness, its open ends juxtaposed against the ultimate barrier, the Wall, running through it, created a perfect breeding ground for all those who thought precious little of elegant white fences and “norms and regulations”.

One of the then new arrivals was a British band, Depeche Mode.  They found here both perfect music-making and recording conditions (at the legendary Hansa Studios in Köthener Straße in Kreuzberg) as well as an enthusiastic, devoted audience.

Not only in West Berlin or West Germany – Depeche Mode won the hearts of many, many East Berlin and East German fans. The same happened in Poland – something to which the author was herself a witness and active participant: I discovered Depeche Mode as a 14-year-old in the People’s Republic of Poland and remain one until today, as a citizen of the German Federal Republic.

Depeche Mode are frequent guests in Berlin and their concerts are sold out every single time. But what was it like back in the 1980s, in the DDR? It wasn’t, in fact, any different: the band were worshipped on both sides of the divide. But for those on its eastern side March 7th 1988 was what many still describe as “the most beautiful day of their life”. This short video – an extract from a longer documentary which is absolutely worth watching if found online – explains why. So does the book by Sascha Lange and Dennis Burmeister, two long-time Depeche Mode devotees.

You will also enjoy the author’s favourite early Depeche Mode video recorded in Berlin in the early 1980s and featuring among others, the U1 viaduct along Gitschiner Straße and Wassertorplatz in Kreuzberg, the Wannsee lido and Hansaviertel in Tiergarten: “Everything Counts”.