May
20th

Beneath Berlin

On a recent trip to Berlin I expected to be inspired, I didn’t expect one of the sources for this to be the U8 line of the U-Bahn. More specifically, the stations that punctuate the route connecting the underground tunnel to the vibrant city above. My interest, whilst initially purely visual, has since grown after discovering how Berlin’s chequered history has impacted on the story of the U8.

Connecting Wittenau in the north west to Hermannstraße in the south, the route runs through the heart of Berlin, and between 1961 and 1989 flitted between both east and west sides of the divided city. During this period the stations falling on the east side between Moritzplatz and Voltastraße were closed, earning them the tag of ‘Geisterbahnhöfe’ or ‘ghost stations’, the only human presence being the GDR guards watching over the trains that were still allowed to pass through connecting parts of the west. Since learning this I’ve tried to imagine such a scenario but, as with so many things about this period of Berlin’s history, I don’t feel like I can fully appreciate what it was like for the people involved. Imagine this brief window when east meets west, where the west Berliners find themselves in world that operates in such stark contrast to their own and the guards observe commuters who will end their journey back in a society that affords them more freedom than allowed by their employer.

Visually, there’s charm in the simple and practical design. I found myself drawn to the strangely unique character of each station, probably fuelled by my appreciation for the work of Bauhaus during the same period. Designed by Alfred Grenander and Peter Behrens between 1927 and 1930, practical, and in their simplicity strong examples of ‘Neues Bauen’. What first sparked my interest however is the glazed tiles decorating the walls of each station, with every stop themed by the strong and bold use of a single colour throughout. From the blue-green theme at Alexanderplatz to the orange of Rosenthaler Platz, each station is different from the next. This confident choice and application of colour for me opened up the space, helping to counteract the lack of natural light, and offered a refreshing contrast to the darkness of the tunnels and, in their time, probably the darker days of Berlin’s history. Some images I took on the U8 can be found here.

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