Wednesday, 24 June 2020

Great Railway Stations No. 16: Leipzig Hauptbahnhof

There are many cities larger than Leipzig that have to be content with train stations no more than half the size of the one that serves Leipzig. This can be explained by what happened in 1898 when the city fathers began to devise a plan to combine all the city’s stations into a single building. Inflated with civic pride they commissioned a train station on a gargantuan scale commensurate with their estimation of the city’s importance. Since the Middle Ages, Leipzig had been a major centre for trade fairs and with its university, concert halls and classical music academies, associations with J S Bach and Mendelssohn it could also claim to be a centre of high culture. So there was some basis for their self esteem. Planning for the station began in 1898, construction started in 1909 and by the time it was completed in 1915 it was Europe’s largest station by surface area with 26 platforms to admire, sheltered by an enormous six bay train shed. Two massive entrances, each with a domed entrance hall, projected forward from a 5-storey elongated terminal building which gave on to a cavernous concourse of intimidating proportions.

After the war Leipzig became part of the DDR and the extensively bomb-damaged station was renovated at a stately pace - only fully restored in 1965, more than 20 years after it was attacked. After reunification commercial priorities dictated the scooping out of the concourse floor with a modern subterranean shopping centre slotted into the newly vacant space. The retail intrusion opened in 1997 and subtly changed the character of the space from a place alive with the excitement of arrival and departure into a shopping experience with ancillary rail travel as an optional extra. These three postcards celebrate the new station in all its magnificence. They appear to be based on artists’ impressions and may well predate the completion of the buildings. One is postmarked in 1914, a year before the new station was fully operational. The photographs are from January 2019 when I changed trains there.

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