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Berlin's stations

Stations in Berlin, the railway capital

skip: Stations in Berlin, the railway capital
In the 19th century, Berlin was Germany's railway capital. Railway lines led into Berlin from all directions and resembled the shape of a star. Magnificent stations were a symbol of economic wealth. Berlin, however, did not have a central station.

Potsdamer, Anhalter, Görlitzer, Frankfurter, Schlesischer, Stettiner, Hamburger and Lehrter Bahnhof were the names of the long-distance railway stations in Berlin in the 19th century. They were the starting point and end point of the long-distance lines owned by private railway companies, and laid the foundation stone for Berlin's development as the country's railway capital. As was also the case in other big cities in Europe, stations were located outside the city, where there was space and relatively cheap land available. When the first line from Potsdam to Berlin opened in 1838, the city had no less than 300,000 residents.

The Prussian capital of Berlin never had a central station. Instead, there were ten long-distance radial lines leading into the city, each ending in a terminus station. The stations were gradually linked to each other by means of a "Circle Line" that circled the city and was used primarily for freight traffic, as it did not yet offer a convenient means of transfer for the growing number of travellers. Berlin pulled off a tremendous feat with the construction of the four-track "Stadtbahn" (City Railway) in 1882. Berlin was now the only city in the world with a modern urban traffic system that also linked up the most important long-distance stations with each other.

After the Second World War, and the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961, what had previously been the railway capital lost its importance. As part of its so-called "free from intervention" measures, the East German government built an outer circle line to divert rail traffic around West Berlin. In West Berlin itself, the Reichsbahn closed down long-distance lines and long-distance passenger stations, including the Lehrter Bahnhof. Only after the fall of the Berlin Wall and reunification did the Berlin stations regain their importance: the rail infrastructure had to be brought up to date, lines had to be refurbished and electrified, and more importantly, a new concept had to be developed for both long-distance and local rail services.

With the construction of the North-South line and a new central station close to the former Lehrter Bahnhof, Berlin will be the only city in Europe that has a crossing station for high speed, local and rapid transit traffic. Travellers will soon have a comfortable and convenient way of getting to the centre of Berlin and will be able to go anywhere in Europe by train, without the inconvenience of long transfer journeys.

Berlin Ostbahnhof

Frankfurter – Niederschlesisch-Märkischer - Schlesischer – Ostbahnhof – Hauptbahnhof – Ostbahnhof

The name changes that today’s Berlin Ostbahnhof has gone through mark significant dates of railway history, which also traces the city's economic and political history. The third oldest station in Berlin, which was originally intended to be the terminal of the Frankfurt/Oder – Berlin line, over the years, has gradually moved into the centre of Berlin's traffic. With the construction of the city's “Stadtbahn” system, the station that has changed its name several times has become the first major through station in Berlin - and even today it is one of the city’s most important traffic hubs.

After the Berlin-Frankfurter Eisenbahn-Gesellschaft had received its operating licence in March 1840 and construction of the line from Berlin to Frankfurt had begun, the construction of the station got underway in September 1841. A year later, the Berlin-Frankfurter railway and its facilities were officially opened. When the Berlin-Frankfurter Eisenbahn-Gesellschaft merged with the Niederschlesisch-Märkische Eisenbahn-Gesellschaft in 1844, the first of a long series of name changes was made: Frankfurter Bahnhof, as the station was called, became the Niederschlesisch-Märkischer Bahnhof.

As a hub to the East, the station soon reached the limits of its capacity. The terminus station was changed into a through station with additional tracks for local and suburban traffic and also the provision of long-distance trains to the East. The station was completely remodelled. It was opened again for traffic in two stages. In July 1880, trains were able to pass through the old hall, and almost two years later in May 1882, the “Stadtbahn” was opened to traffic. Another important renaming took place between the two openings: on 15 October 1881, the Niederschlesisch-Märkischer Bahnhof was renamed Schlesischer Bahnhof and remained, with no major structural changes, virtually unchanged from 1880/82 until the start of the Second World War.

Parts of the passenger building and the hall roofs were subsequently destroyed in the war. When it was over, the Soviet army initiated the restoration of the station and organised the start of its reconstruction. Since the 1951 summer timetable, trains have stopped at the Ostbahnhof instead of at the Schlesischer Bahnhof.

Decisions taken by the politburo of the Central Committee of the SED and of the Presidium of the Council of Ministers of the GDR in 1983 resulted in major remodelling plans for the Ostbahnhof. Complete refurbishment of this very busy station was urgently needed, and there were also political reasons for it, such as the need for an impressive-looking station to welcome high-ranking guests and on an international level to provide a rival to West Berlin's Zoologischer Garten. Demolition of the old passenger building, including blasting work, began in May 1985. The first section of the passenger and check-in building, with its asymmetrically designed and largely glass-panelled access hall, was opened in 1987 to celebrate the 750th anniversary of Berlin. At the opening ceremony on 15 December 1987, the name Ostbahnhof was changed to Hauptbahnhof.

Following reunification and the foundation of DeutscheBahn AG in 1994, a new era also began for the Berlin Hauptbahnhof station. As a result of the refurbishment of the “Stadtbahn” tracks and the closure of the “Stadtbahn's” long-distance tracks, the Hauptbahnhof became a lot quieter. When the “Stadtbahn” was reopened for normal services in May 1998, the name Ostbahnhof returned and the station again became one of the most important traffic hubs for Berlin's long-distance and urban traffic system. To turn the hub into a modern railway station, more structural changes to the passenger building were necessary. In January 1999, the remodelling of the Ostbahnhof started. The historical exterior and the forebuilding dating from 1987 were removed and replaced by glass panels, making use of some historical elements that were left over. The three floors of the passenger building were gutted and given a complete facelift.

Today the Ostbahnhof offers travellers a bright and cheerful atmosphere and is a modern-looking starting point and destination when travelling by train. It is also an attractive shopping centre and meeting point, with lots of specialist shops, service providers, restaurants and cafés.

Lehrter Bahnhof

In the history of Berlin's long-distance railway stations of the 19th century, the Lehrter Bahnhof, which was built in 1871, is one of the most recent. Trains travelling on the Berlin-Spandau-Rathenow-Stendal-Gardelegen-Lehrte line and the Stendal-Salzwedel-Uelzen branch line arrived and departed from here. Although Berlin had provided services to the North through the Hamburger Bahnhof and to the West using the lines of the Berlin-Magdeburger railway company since 1847, plans to build a rival line that was to link up the North and the West with non-stop, long-distance trains had existed since 1863. Hanover was also to get a line that would link up directly with the Prussian railway network. To ensure that no politically unpleasant associations would be awakened – in the political quarrels between Prussia and Austria, Hanover had gone over to the Austrian side - the company applying for the contract to build this line called itself the “Berlin-Lehrte Committee”. Lehrte had been the first railway junction on Hanoverian territory. 

After the war of 1866 and the annexation of Hanover by the Prussian government, the Magdeburg-Halberstädter Eisenbahn-Gesellschaft was awarded the concession to build the line. In 1871 - the year of the foundation of the German Empire - the line and station went into operation. At the specific request of Kaiser Wilhelm I, the station was erected, for "aesthetic considerations", parallel to the waterfront of the Humbold harbour. Architects used design elements taken from classical and renaissance styles for the prestigious exterior of the passenger building.

With the opening of the “Stadtbahn”, which from 1882 directed all trains coming from Hamburg and Hanover to the stations and the closure of the Hamburger Bahnhof in 1884, the Lehrter Bahnhof gained in importance, particularly for trains travelling North. During the Second World War, parts of the station were severely damaged in air raids, but it was possible to keep the station operational. Until 1950, 17 long-distance trains still stopped at the Lehrter Bahnhof. The Reichsbahn finally closed down all services in 1952. A good 10 years after the war, the West Germans and the Reichsbahn management agreed on what to do with the ruins of the station, and the last wall was demolished with explosives in 1959. For decades, the name of the S-Bahn rapid transit station close by was the only reminder of the former long-distance railway station in the heart of Berlin.

Last modified: 23.09.2006

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Historical photograph of Potsdam Station in Berlin

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Communications - Group History

Potsdamer Platz 2

D-10785 Berlin


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