The Berlin Wall & the U-Bahn

U-Bahn Train

Of all the strange effects the building of the Berlin Wall had on the lives of its inhabitants, what happened to their underground railway system was just about one of the strangest. As with all major Western cities, the system had been built up since the latter part of the nineteenth century, to allow easy access to all parts of the city. Begun in 1896, the oldest line is now part of line U1, running east-west, ending up at a station just the other side of a district boundary that would later freeze into the West Berlin-DDR border zone. Indeed, many lines went to and fro across these district boundaries in a way that should have confounded all attempts to divide the city. But as it happened, only one line had to be split up, and part of its length closed down.

U-Bahn Map

This can be seen from this old U-Bahn system map from 1979, where the shaded strip on the right represents the Berlin Wall. The black dashed section of Line 2 coming from Wittenbergplatz represents the unused part of the line. The other end of the line, starting at Thälmannplatz, operated as a separate entity over in the East. Two of the disused stations, which at this point are on an elevated section, were converted into markets. One, an antiques market at Nollendorfplatz, was housed in old wooden u-bahn carriages lined up along the platform. There was even a rail service, of sorts, in another antique carriage, which shuttled to and fro between Nollendorfplatz and the Turkish Bazaar at Bülowstrasse. The strangest fate, though, was that which befell lines 6 and 9. Line 6 can be seen in the above map on the right, coloured purple. These two north-south lines both began in West Berlin in the northern part of the city, and went south through a bulge of Eastern territory, and out the other side to finish down in a southern section of West Berlin. Here, rather than stop the trains, the DDR authorites closed all the stations on these lines which lay on their side of the border, and sealed them up against any of their citizens. As a train came to the place in the tunnel where the border ran above ground, it passed through a concrete collar set in the roof and sides of the tunnel, through which the train only just fitted, thereby stopping anyone trying to escape by clinging to the outside of the coaches. The train would slow down through the darkened closed stations, on the platforms of which only armed border guards strolled. In some places, there were still advertising posters on the walls from 1961, when the Berlin Wall was first built. The guards would glower at the well-dressed West Berliners on the train as it trundled by, who would largely ignore the scene outside. It was after all, just another U-Bahn trip for them. Once the other side in the West again, the stations were as normal, and passengers could get on and off as usual. When the Wall came down, the 'Ghost Stations' in the East came to life again.

Station Nameplates

These pictures of their nameplates were taken in the first days of their reopening. At Alexanderplatz, a wall was demolished and a whole hidden section of the underground station was revealed, which surprised many local people, who had no idea it was there. Many Berliners took special trips just for the pleasure of getting on and off at stations which had been forbidden to them for so long. Fairly soon as well, any station which had a name that was 'too communist', had it changed. Finally, after reconstruction which lasted several years, the disused section of Line 2 came back into use. The two markets at Nollendorfplatz and Bülowstrasse were banished elsewhere, and Wittenberplatz was again connected to Thälmannplatz, now renamed Mohrenstrasse. Mohrenstrasse station has another secret, by the way. If you go there, you see its walls and pillars are decorated with a very lavish red marble. Why would the Eastern Authorities spend so much to decorate a U-Bahn station so expensively? The answer is they didn't. They looted the marble from Hitler's demolished Chancellory, just the other side of the road!

Go to the Fifth essay in this series.

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