Take the U Train: The Story of Berlin's Oldest Elevated Railway Line Part I
Welcome to the tour of U1
Welcome to the tour of the eastern section of Berlin´s oldest underground line, part of today´s U1.
You should be standing in front of the U-Bahn station called "Warschauer Straße". Turn so that the bridge over the railway tracks is on your left-hand side. Do you see a red-brick viaduct stretching down to the river on your right? Excellent. You are just where you should be.
Do not start walking yet, please. Let's do the introductions first. My name is Beata. I'm a Berlin history blogger, book author and a huge fan of everything that Berlin has to offer both over and under the ground.
Speaking of which. I'll be using the term U-Bahn or U-Bahnhof a lot: U stands for Unterpflaster or “under-the-pavement” and U-Bahn for Unterpflasterbahn or "under-the-pavement railway", or simply “underground railway”. You’ll probably notice that both the bridge and the viaduct fly right in the face of that term. Along U1, the underground is predominantly “overground”.
U1 is an almost exclusively elevated line. Of course, it could disappear under the street surface somewhere on the other side of the river but it doesn't. It won't go underground for the next 8.3 km, until it´s reached a ramp behind the last station on our tour, called U-Bhf “Gleisdreick”.
Between here and Gleisdreieck there are 5.66 km of steel viaduct, combined with some exquisite brickwork. So when you're not walking, you'll be travelling not under but over the streets of Kreuzberg. I will explain the reasons for this confusion.
Another important piece of information is that U1, the line you’ll will be exploring today, is the eastern section of the original line built by Siemens & Halske & called "Östliche Stammstrecke". Stammstrecke means "core or stem line".
It opened on the morning of February 18, 1902 as Berlin’s second elevated railway line (the first being the Stadtbahn between Bahnhof “Savignyplatz” and today’s “Ostbahnhof”): that day Berlin’s first U-Bahn passengers travelled between Bahnhof, or station, "Stralauer Tor" and U-Bhf “Potsdamer Platz” – the station you’re facing now, “Warschauer Straße” (originally “Warschauer Brücke”) didn’t open until August 1902.
Hochbahn trains crossed the river across the newly constructed Oberbaumbrücke, sped along the steel viaduct in Skalitzer Straße, Gitschiner Straße and Hallesches Ufer and having crossed the Landwehrkanal, a city canal, passed the triangular railway junction, Gleisdreieck. They ended their run at “Potsdamer Platz”, an underground station built next to the famous Berlin railway terminus Potsdamer Bahnhof. From March 1902 the western leg of the line also took them to “Zoologischer Garten” Station in Charlottenburg, next to Ku’damm. Today it’s part of the line U2.
Don't worry if you feel confused. I will explain these things further as we go.
[2 SECOND PAUSE]
Now technical titbits: Voicemap uses your phone's GPS to play audio at each location, so you can put your phone away and follow the directions using my voice. There will be areas of silence, but that’s normal. We are just in between locations.
Alright, let’s go in and see one of the busiest U-Bahn stations in Berlin. Enter the main hall up the steps. As mentioned before: U-Bhf “Warschauer Straße” was called “Warschauer Brücke” until 1995. Its hall might not seem very impressive. Actually, none of the Siemens & Halske’s original station halls did: they were simple, inexpensive but very functional. Their project was not about aesthetics but about excellent engineering and inexpensive functionality. Well, at least at the beginning.
Are you inside yet? Good.
Now turn right, and slowly walk down the platform towards its other end. When you get there, stop for a moment and have a look.
"Warschauer Brücke" opened only half a year after the rest of the line, in the summer of 1902. It took more time to build because of its size and high complexity: it's not just this hall.
Outside, to your left, there are maintenance shops, repair sheds, plenty of tracks, and, to your right, an original signal tower: that quaint building on steel legs. This was the end of the line, albeit planned as a temporary one, and the place where trains were taken care of and even built.
The station was also the southern terminal of a tram-line to Berlin’s Central Municipal Abattoir in Prenzlauer Berg, in the north-east. It’s basically the same tram line that ends in front of the station today.
The next station called "Stralauer Tor" was astoundingly close - you could see it from here, right where the bridge begins ahead of you. What seems like a misjudgement (why so close?) had solid grounds: “Warschauer Brücke” was planned as a temporary terminal.
The line was to continue north - but it didn't, and the temporary became the permanent. Now you'll also understand why Bhf “Stralauer Tor” was the only one on this line not rebuilt after the war. There was no need for it.
You can still see its traces though: I'll remind you to have a closer look, when we get there in a moment.
Now walk back to the entrance. Outside turn left and start walking, keeping the train station on your left-hand side (mind the bike-road!). I'll catch up with you a little further down the street.
You may get a lost warning from the app on your way back to the entrance, but don’t worry about it. It’s just the system thinking you got lost because you’re walking in the opposite direction.