Thursday 17 December 2020

Great Railway Stations No. 18: Bahnhof Friedrichstraße

Friedrichstrasse is a major north-south corridor in Central Berlin.  At the point where it’s crossed by the Stadtbahn Viaduct there’s an elevated train station - Bahnhof Friedrichstrasse. Under a steel truss, double arched train shed are 8 platforms serving mainline, regional and S-Bahn trains which extend westwards across the river Spee on a bridge.  Many postcard views feature the bridge over Friedrichstrasse capturing the visual drama of muscular Prussian steam locomotives pressing forwards over a traffic-choked street.  With the exception of the Admiralspalast theatre very few of the grand commercial buildings that lined the street survived the destruction of the last war. No trace remains of lost landmarks such as the Panopticum waxwork museum or the opulent Kaisergalerie shopping arcade.  Most of Friedrichstrasse has been rebuilt since reunification in 1990 - a task that included demolition of a number of projects completed by the East German regime.  The pre-war vitality of a busy shopping street (as seen in the postcards) has given way to broad pavements and the bland facades of corporate edifices.

During the Cold War partition of the city, Bahnhof Friedrichstrasse was a frontier crossing point. While the station was in the Eastern Sector, trains ran through from West Berlin, passing through East Berlin before returning to the west. Station platforms and buildings were partitioned and all the infrastructure of customs and immigration checks was installed. Fully armed Border Troops and Stasi officers patrolled a maze of station corridors on multiple levels, making full use of their holding cells and interrogation suites. Three separate checks were required to complete a border crossing although agents of the DDR had their own secret entrance and exit. It became a building where the full power of an authoritarian state was brought to bear upon its own citizens, depriving them of dignity and autonomy.  To prevent it mutating into an unwanted memorial to the trauma of a divided nation would take 12 years of reconstruction on the part of the newly unified German authorities before all traces of the ancien régime were eradicated. 


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