Anhalter Bahnhof

Anhalter Bahnhof ruin, Berlin, Germany

When you emerge from the Berlin S-bahn station, Anhalter Bahnhof, you’re confronted with the vestigial remains of the late nineteenth-century inter-city main-line terminus of the same name, a reminder of a different Berlin that’s largely disappeared.

The earliest railways to reach Berlin each terminated at their own station – Postdamer Bahnhof (1838) from Potsdam and the Anhalter Bahnhof (1839) from Anhalt.   These were followed by the Frankfurter Bahnhof (1842), the Stettiner Bahnhof (1842) from Stettin (now Szczecin) and the Hamburger Bahnhof (1846-47).

The Berlin rail system went through frequent and radical realignments during the nineteenth century and the original Anhalter Bahnhof was completely and magnificently rebuilt in 1876-80 to the designs of Franz Heinrich Schwechten (1841-1924) as a major terminus under an iron-and-glass trainshed, said to be the largest in continental Europe though smaller than St Pancras.

The bombastic glazed brick façade was decorated with sculptures — figures representing Night and Day by Ludwig Brunow (1843-1913) flanking the clock, and International Traffic by Emil Hundrieser (1846-1911) crowning the central pediment.

Albert Speer’s 1930s scheme for a world capital [Welthauptstadt] called Germania to celebrate the anticipated Nazi victory in the Second World War would have severed the approach tracks to the station, which Speer proposed to convert into a swimming pool.

After the Wannsee Conference of January 1942 inaugurated the Final Solution plan to exterminate Europe’s Jews, Anhalter Bahnhof, unlike the other Berlin stations that transported Jews in freight wagons, provided ordinary carriages with armed guards, attached to scheduled services, to give the impression that elderly Jews were being taken to a well-deserved retirement.  

The terminus was practically put out of action by Allied bombing in November 1943 and February 1945, and although the Allies restored services from 1946, the East Berlin authorities took a dim view of trains from East Germany arriving at a terminus in the American sector, and diverted all traffic to the Ostbahnhof in 1952.

The station stood empty and unused until 1960 when most of it was demolished.  In response to public protests the central portion of Schwechten’s façade was retained and cleaned.  Brunow’s statues were replaced by reproductions so that the originals could be shown at the German Museum of Technology built on former railway land nearby.

The footprint of the station platforms and tracks is occupied by an all-weather football pitch and a concert venue, Tempodrom.  Alongside, a vast bunker constructed as a shelter in 1943 houses the Berlin Story Museum, an exercise in dark tourism from which no-one emerges feeling cheerful, telling the story of twentieth-century Berlin warts and all:

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