Berlin Potsdamer Bahnhof

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Berlin Potsdamer Bahnhof
Train station Berlin Potsdamer Bahnhof.jpg
The original Potsdamer Bahnhof around 1843, a few years after opening
Location Mitte, Berlin, Berlin
The terminus in 1850, already somewhat larger but even in this form it will eventually become unable to cope with growing traffic
The rebuilt Potsdamer Bahnhof - its new facade around 1900

The Potsdamer Bahnhof is a former railway terminus in Berlin, Germany. It was located at Potsdamer Platz, about 1 km south of the Brandenburg Gate, and kick-started the transformation of Potsdamer Platz from an area of quiet villas near the south-east corner of the Tiergarten into the bustling focal point that it eventually became. Also located at this spot were underground stations on the Berlin U-Bahn and S-Bahn, a test track for a proposed M-Bahn system, and today's new underground Regionalbahnhof, known as Bahnhof Potsdamer Platz.

Early days[edit]

The Potsdamer Bahnhof was the Berlin terminus of the city’s first railway, linking it with Potsdam. Begun in 1835, it was opened from the Potsdam end as far as Zehlendorf on 22 September 1838, and its entire length of 26 km on 29 October. The first train was hauled by a British-built locomotive, the work of Robert Stephenson at his Newcastle-upon-Tyne works in 1835, and called Adler (Eagle). In 1848 the lines were extended west to Magdeburg, to link up with routes extending across the future German state. The whole area around the Berlin terminus became a major focus for urban growth after its opening. Five major streets eventually converged here, most having started out as mere rough tracks through the Tiergarten and adjoining fields.

A new terminus[edit]

The first Potsdamer Bahnhof lasted until 1869, when it was superseded by a far grander structure in response to growing traffic, built by Julius Ludwig Quassowski (1824–1909) with five platforms, a trainshed roof that was 173m long and 36m wide, a booking hall with separate waiting rooms and facilities for four classes of ticket holders, and a separate entrance and reception area on the west side for visiting royalty. Opened on 30 August 1872, it eventually handled train services to and from Cologne, Paris, Frankfurt/Main, Strasbourg and Aix en Provence. By 1890 over 3 million people a year were using it, and it was holding its own against a larger rival down the road (the Anhalter Bahnhof).

Ringbahnhof and Wannsee Bahnhof[edit]

Location of the main station and its Wannseebahn and Ringbahn appendices in 1910, shadowed with the situation of 1980–85

Still the facilities could not cope, and so in 1890–1891 two additional termini were built on either side of it for short-haul and suburban traffic: on the east side, the Ringbahnhof, opened on 1 April 1891 to serve the Ringbahn itself, the circular route skirting the city’s perimeter with connections to all the main termini and open throughout its length since 15 November 1877; and the Wannsee Bahnhof on the west side, opened on 1 October 1891 for trains to Wannsee and the south western suburbs. Both these stations were located further south, with the north entries just north of the line Bernburger Straße.

In 1901, separate tracks for the suburban line along the Anhalter Bahn to Lichterfelde-Ost were built together with a number of new stations. The Berlin city terminus was moved from the Anhalter Bahnhof to the Potdam Ringbahn station. This line was the first Berlin suburban line to be electrified with Third Rail, opened on 2 July 1903. Originally using 550 V DC, it was converted to 800 V on July 1929, in the course of the "Grand Electrification" of the core of Berlin's city, Ring, and suburban lines.

The lines terminating in the Potsdamer Bahnhof Wannsee station and the mainline terminus had to wait until 15 May 1933 to be electrified. The Ringbahnhof ultimately handled many times as many passengers as the mainline terminus.


The U-Bahn, or Untergrundbahn (underground railway), was a major revolution in Berlin’s public transport, and the forerunner of similar systems now seen in several German cities. The underground sections alternated with sections elevated above ground on viaducts – hence the alternative name Hochbahn (literally "high railway"). The first line (now part of line U1) ran from Stralauer Tor to Potsdamer Platz. Begun on 10 September 1896 and opened on 18 February 1902, the actual Potsdamer Platz station was rather poorly sited. Though it was reached via an entrance right outside the main-line terminus, people then had to walk about 200 metres (660 ft) along an underground passage beneath the appropriately named Bahnstraße (Railway Street).

Later that year, the system was developed into a through line running from Warschauer Brücke to Knie, which actually placed Potsdamer Platz on a branch accessed via a triangle of lines (Gleisdreieck) between Möckernbrücke and Bülowstraße stations near the current Gleisdreieck station. The first Potsdamer Platz U-Bahn station saw use for just over five and a half years, until its inconvenient site, and the desire to reach other parts of the city, enabled it to be superseded by a better sited new station on an extension of the line to Spittelmarkt. The new station opened first, on 29 September 1907, and the rest of the extension to Spittelmarkt on 1 October 1908 (evidence of the original station's site can still be seen in the tunnel, from passing trains). As the new station lay mostly beneath the adjoining Leipziger Platz, this is what the station was initially called, renamed Potsdamer Platz on 29 January 1923.

The station was one of a number designed by the Swedish architect Alfred Frederik Elias Grenander (1863–1931). From a technical point of view, its construction was something of a challenge, as above ground the Hotel Furstenhof was being rebuilt at the same time. The U-Bahn line extension and new station ran right through the hotel's basement, cutting it in half. Contrary to several sources, the hotel did not however enjoy a separate entrance directly from the station. The enormous Wertheim Department Store in nearby Leipziger Straße did enjoy such an entrance, as in later years did the Hotel Excelsior from the Anhalter Bahnhof.

1930s heyday[edit]

Although smaller than the Anhalter Bahnhof, the Potsdamer Bahnhof was much the busier of the two. By 1939 up to 83,000 people per day were using it, actually making it the busiest station in Berlin by a considerable distance. Since most of these were specifically using the Ringbahnhof, it gave the impression that the entire terminus was simply a suburban or commuter station handling exclusively short haul services, yet the main line services, including those to Paris and other French destinations, were definitely still running. The previous year (1938), the terminus, together with the line from Potsdam, had reached its centenary, and the celebrations featured an operational replica of the "Adler" locomotive that had hauled the very first train 100 years previously (the original loco had been scrapped at Augsburg in 1857). The replica was the work of the DRG restoration workshop at Kaiserslautern in 1935. In 1939 the Wannsee Bahnhof on the west side closed, superseded by the new S-Bahn North-South Link described below.

The S-Bahn[edit]

In 1939 the S-Bahn, or Stadtbahn (City Railway), arrived. The idea for a North-South Link rapid transit rail line from Unter den Linden to Yorckstrasse, via Potsdamer Platz and Anhalter Bahnhof, had first been mooted in 1914, but it was not planned in detail until 1928, and then approval had to wait until 1933. Begun in 1934, it was plagued with disasters. Determination to have it finished in time for the Berlin Olympic Games in 1936 meant vital safety measures were ignored: on 20 August 1935, a tunnel collapse just south of the Brandenburg Gate buried 23 workmen of whom only four survived; then on 28 December 1936, a fire near the Potsdamer Platz station destroyed vital equipment. Needless to say, the line was not ready for the Berlin Olympics; in fact it was another three years before it first saw public use. In spite of all the setbacks, it was opened from Unter den Linden to Potsdamer Platz on 15 April 1939, extended to Anhalter Bahnhof on 9 October, and then to Yorckstrasse, to complete the link, on 6 November. The Potsdamer Platz S-Bahn station also contained an underground shopping arcade, the largest in Europe.

Four platforms were provided at the station and all were used although just two were planned to suffice: the other two were intended originally to be utilised by another new line, which was to branch off eastwards and run under the city to Görlitzer Bahnhof. A connection from Anhalter Bahnhof was also to be made. Although construction of some tunnel sections went ahead (and these still exist though inaccessible to the public), the line was never opened.

World War 2 and its aftermath[edit]

The fate of the Potsdamer Bahnhof was determined by World War II, and yet even if the war had not occurred, major changes would still have taken place. Under the grand plan by Adolf Hitler (1889–1945), to transform Berlin into the Welthauptstadt (World Capital) Germania, to be realised by Albert Speer (1905–81), the building would have ceased to be a railway terminus. The new North-South Axis, the linchpin of the plan, would have severed its approach tracks, leaving the terminus stranded on the wrong side of it. All trains arriving in Berlin would have run into either of two vast new stations located on the Ringbahn to the north and south of the centre respectively, to be known as Nordbahnhof (North Station) and Südbahnhof (South Station), located at Wedding and Südkreuz. The intended fate of the Potsdamer Bahnhof has not been documented. In the event things took a different course.

During World War II the terminus, like most of Berlin, was devastated by British and American bombs and Soviet artillery shells. Despite some rubble clearance and emergency repairs, damage to rail infrastructure further out was so great that the mainline terminus never saw another train, it and the Ringbahnhof closing on 3 August 1944. Many sections of the U-Bahn and S-Bahn were also closed during the war due to enemy action, and the sections through Potsdamer Platz were no exception.

The S-Bahn North-South Link, less than six years old, became the setting for one of the most contentious episodes of the final Battle for Berlin, in late April and early May 1945. On May 2, the Tunnel was flooded as a consequence of the decision of the remaining Nazi leaders to blow up the section of the North-South Tunnel beneath the nearby Landwehrkanal as a desperate measure to slow the Soviet advance. Because of this incident, the North-South Link was unable to be used until 1947 (see below).

Shortly after war's end the Ringbahnhof got a reprieve of sorts, temporarily reopening on 6 August 1945 as terminus of the Wannseebahn trains, while the U-Bahn and S-Bahn received massive repairs (millions of gallons of water had to be pumped out for starters). The Ringbahnhof closed for good on 27 July 1946 after some fragmentary train workings had resumed along the U-Bahn and North-South Link on 2 June. Full services recommenced on 16 November 1947, although repairs were not complete until May 1948. The services were extended further in 1951. Another interruption of services was caused by the Uprising of 1953 in East Germany, no trains running between 17 June, the day of the uprising, and 9 July. Above ground the remains of the terminus were cleared away in stages between 1957 and 1960 after a vague attempt at restoration was aborted. Besides the Dresdner and Hamburger Bahnhöfe (which were not operating by the time of WWII) all of Berlin’s other rail termini suffered a similar fate, leaving a network that remained fragmented and inconvenient for decades, exacerbated by the Division of Berlin and the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961 (see below).

The Berlin Wall[edit]

When the Berlin Wall was erected on 13 August 1961, it had a profound effect on rail services in and around the city, and on the U-Bahn and S-Bahn in particular. Essentially both were divided into two systems, with lines being physically severed where they crossed the border between East Berlin and West Berlin. It was imagined that trains on either side would simply run as far as the last stop before the border and then reverse back. This was partly the case with the U-Bahn line through Potsdamer Platz, as the former Kaiserhof station (renamed Thalmannplatz in August 1950, Otto Grotewohl Straße in April 1986, and Mohrenstraße in October 1991), operationally became a terminus for trains on the eastern side. On the western side however, the entire section all the way back to Wittenbergplatz was closed completely and at least partially dismantled. Indeed, two of the abandoned stations on this section, Bülowstraße and Nollendorfplatz, were converted into markets. The antiques market at the latter was housed in sixteen old wooden coaches lined up beside the platforms, while another coach even carried passengers back and forth to Bülowstraße where a Turkish bazaar was sited.

The S-Bahn North-South Link saw a more bizarre - though not unique - state of affairs. This line, plus two U-Bahn lines elsewhere in the city, suffered from a quirk of geography in that they briefly passed through East German territory en route from one part of West Berlin to another. This gave rise to the infamous "Geisterbahnhofe" (ghost stations), Potsdamer Platz being the most notorious, those unfortunate ones on the eastern side that were sealed off from the outside world and which trains ran straight through without stopping. They would generally slow down however, affording passengers the strange sight of dusty, dimly lit platforms patrolled by armed guards, there to prevent any East Berliners from trying to escape to the West by train. At the points where the lines passed directly beneath the actual border, concrete "collars" were constructed within the tunnels with just the minimum clearance for trains, to prevent people clinging to the sides or roof of the coaches.

After the fall of the Wall on 9 November 1989, both lines and all the ghost stations underwent a major refurbishment before re-opening - the S-Bahn first, on 1 March 1992. The U-Bahn line needed a lot more work, and finally re-opened on 13 November 1993, one month after enormous redevelopment projects in and around the Potsdamer Platz area were commenced.

The M-Bahn[edit]

In the latter years of the Wall's existence, part of the abandoned U-Bahn section, the stretch between Gleisdreieck and Potsdamer Platz, had actually been utilised by another line - the M-Bahn (Magnetic Levitation Railway) which, instead of diving underground as before, once it had crossed over the Landwehrkanal, remained above ground on a lengthy elevated structure supported on steel columns, which curved across the Potsdamer Bahnhof's former site to end at a terminus of its own at Kemper Platz, very near the Philharmonie (Philharmonic Hall, home of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra).

As early as the late 1970s the West Berlin government had discussed introducing such a system to the city, particularly a section linking Tegel Airport with the centre. The go-ahead was finally given for the building of a test track at Potsdamer Platz on 2 December 1980, with a ground-breaking ceremony taking place on 16 June 1983, construction starting in earnest in December 1983 and the first test runs occurring in June 1984. Five years of intensive testing followed, not without incident. On 18 April 1987 an arson attack at Gleisdreieck destroyed two cars, while a more spectacular mishap occurred on 19 December 1988 when a train with badly adjusted brakes ran through the end wall of the Kemper Platz terminus, much to the amusement of the local press. However, with some spare cars pressed into service the line, just 1.6 km in length, was opened to the public on 28 August 1989, although it did not really run from anywhere to anywhere. Nevertheless, it was regarded as an interesting curiosity and was quite heavily used on that basis, although it was to be short-lived.

Less than three months later the Wall came down, which afforded the opportunity to restore the U-Bahn and S-Bahn, thus rendering the M-Bahn redundant. Closed on 18 July 1991, stripping out of the electrical system began on 31 July, followed by dismantling of the track and the elevated steel deck between September 1991 and January 1992. Today there is nothing left to show that it ever existed. Similarly it was decided not to proceed with any M-Bahn plans elsewhere in the city. The possibility of going ahead with the line to Tegel Airport resurfaced periodically, but with the airport itself set to close in 2012 after the massive expansion of Berlin Schönefeld Airport to transform it into the vast new Berlin-Brandenburg International Airport, due for completion in 2011, these plans have now been consigned to history.

The Potsdamer Bahnhof site today[edit]

Potsdamer Platz with the site of the Potsdamer Bahnhof in September 2005. The long green strip is Tilla Durieux Park, the site of the former station and its approaches. The road running down its left (eastern) side is Gabriele Tergit Promenade, named after the German writer and journalist Gabriele Tergit (1894-1982), while the road running down the right (west) side is Linkstraße, a bygone thoroughfare from former times now resurrected, but realigned a few metres east of its old route

Today a number of vast new developments can be seen around Potsdamer Platz. Despite some initial reservations, the new quarter has become a commercial success, and a must-see for the majority of visitors to Berlin. But where the Potsdamer Bahnhof once stood is a long landscaped strip of land named after the Austrian actress Tilla Durieux (1880–1971), stretching for 450 m down to the Landwehrkanal.

A major fire at the DB Museum (German State Railway Museum) in Nuremberg on the night of 17/18 October 2005 destroyed a historical shed and 25 locomotives including the Adler replica featured in the centenary celebrations for the Potsdamer Bahnhof in 1938. Deutsche Bahn have apparently ordered another operational replica in time for the 175th anniversary celebrations in 2010, for the Nuremberg - Fürth railway line, Germany's first.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

Media related to Berlin Potsdamer Platz station at Wikimedia Commons (with pictures of the Potsdamer Bahnhof)

Coordinates: 52°30′25″N 13°22′32″E / 52.50703°N 13.37553°E / 52.50703; 13.37553