The Ghost Stations of Berlin 1961–1990

In August 1961 the East German government built the Berlin Wall, ending freedom of movement between East and West Berlin. As a result, the Berlin public transit network, which had formerly spanned both halves of the city, was also divided into two.

A residential block with the words 'Dieses Haus stand früher in einem anderen Land' painted across the façade.

“This house used to be in another country.”—façade on Brunnenstraße, Berlin-Mitte, 2009.Jean-Remy von Matt.

In August 1961 the East German government built the Berlin Wall, ending freedom of movement between East and West Berlin. As a result, the Berlin public transit network, which had formerly spanned both halves of the city, was also divided into two.

Some U- and S-Bahn lines fell entirely into one half of the city or the other; other lines were divided between the two jurisdictions, with trains running only to the border and then turning back. However, there were three lines—the U-Bahn lines now designated U6 and U8, and the Nord-Süd-Tunnel on the S-Bahn—that ran for the most part through West Berlin but passed through a relatively short stretch of East Berlin territory in the city centre. These lines continued to be open to West Berliners; however, trains did not stop at most of the stations located within East Berlin, though for technical reasons they did need to slow down significantly while passing through. (Trains did stop at Friedrichstraße, more on which below.) The name Geisterbahnhof was soon understandably applied to these dimly lit, heavily guarded stations by the westerners who watched them pass by out the windows. However, the term was never official; West Berlin subway maps of the period simply labelled these stations “Bahnhöfe, auf denen die Züge nicht halten” (“stations at which the trains do not stop”). East Berlin subway maps did not depict Western lines or ghost stations at all. U-bahn maps in the Friedrichstraße transfer station were unique: they depicted all the Western lines but not the Geisterbahnhöfe, and showed the city divided into “Berlin, Hauptstadt der DDR” (“Berlin, capital of the German Democratic Republic”) and “Westberlin.”

The situation described was obviously less than ideal. The lines were a vital part of the West Berlin transit network, but because part of their length lay in East-Berlin territory, it was difficult for western support staff to do needed maintenance work on the tracks and tunnels. If a western train broke down in East Berlin territory, then passengers would need to wait for Eastern border police to appear and escort them out. The East German government occasionally hinted that it might someday block access to the tunnels at the border and run its own service on the East Berlin sections of these lines. However, this awkward status quo persisted for the entire 28-year period of the division of Berlin.

At the closed stations, barbed-wire fences were installed to prevent any would-be escapees from running into the track bed, and the electrically live third rail served as an additional and potentially lethal deterrent. But if someone were to break one or two barriers, the alarm would be triggered. As for the entrances, the signage was removed, walkways were walled up and stairways were sealed with concrete slabs. Behind the windows, police stations were built, from which the whole area could be overlooked from the platform.

A wide white line on the wall marked the exact location of the border. Later, even rolling gates were installed at some stations, rolled into place at night while the guards were asleep. Guard posts at other stations were staffed 24 hours to create additional employment positions with the transport police. In the platform area, the Guardsmen would always occur in pairs. Care was taken that there could be no personal ties between guards. In addition to this, superior officers could conduct surprise inspections at any time. Thus, a maximum security personnel was also given. Other stations were secured by the border guards.

Certain things had been misused, and originally there is railroad board at Alexanderplatz whereas it was replaced by closed rooms. These rooms were used by a railroad board. The “Mäusetunnel” (Extra tunnel) that connected the two platforms in the city-center railway station was used as a storeroom. Even years after the opening of the tunnel, the imprints of the containers in the asphalt ground could also be seen.

Particular stations

Friedrichstraße station, though served by western lines and located in East Berlin territory, was not a Geisterbahnhof. Instead, it served as a transfer point between U6 and several S-Bahn lines. Western passengers could walk from one platform to another without ever leaving the station or needing to show papers, much like air travellers changing planes at an international airport. Westerners with appropriate papers (visas) could also enter East Berlin here.

The Bornholmer Straße S-Bahn station was the only ghost station not located in a tunnel. It was situated close to the wall nearby the Bornholmer Straße border crossing. West Berlin trains passed through it without stopping. East Berlin S-Bahn trains passed the same station close by on different tracks. The tracks used by western and eastern trains were sealed off from each other by a tall fence.

Another oddity was Wollankstraße station. Like Bornholmer Straße, it was an S-Bahn stop served by West Berlin trains but located on East Berlin territory just behind the border. However, Wollankstraße was in use and accessible for West Berliners, as one of its exits was open to a West Berlin street; this exit was exactly on the border line, a warning sign next to it informing passengers about the situation. Its other exits towards East Berlin streets were locked.

Reopenings

The reopening of Jannowitzbrücke U-Bahn station on 11 November 1989, the first of the ghost stations to be reopened after the Fall of the Berlin Wall.

The first people to enter the ghost stations after the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 found that they lived up to their name, with the ads and signage on the walls being unchanged since 1961. None of these have been preserved.

The first ghost station to reopen to passenger traffic was Jannowitzbrücke (U8) on 11 November 1989, two days after the fall of the wall. It was equipped with a checkpoint within the station akin to Friedrichstraße, where East German customs and border control were provisionally installed to facilitate passengers heading to or coming from East Berlin. Hand-drawn destination signs were hung up covering the old ones from pre-1961; these signs were both crumbling from age and obviously missing the terminuses of post-1961 line extensions. On 22 December 1989, Rosenthaler Platz (U8) was reopened with a similar provisional checkpoint.

On 12 April 1990, the third station to reopen was Bernauer Straße (U8). As its northern exit was directly on the border, it could be opened with direct access to West Berlin without the need of a checkpoint. Its southern exit towards East Berlin was not reopened until 1 July 1990.

Discussions on reopening all the U6 and U8 stations including the S-Bahn station Oranienburger Straße, Unter den Linden and Nordbahnhof had begun in 13 April 1990 without border controls. These had to take 2 months to do their cleanup, removing all the dirt; refurbishing the interiors and all stations had been reopened on 1 July 1990 at 11.00am, as the East Berlin and East Germany had adopted the West German currency (DM), leaving the border controls all abandoned.

On 2 July 1990, Oranienburger Straße was the first ghost station on the Nord-Süd-S-Bahn to reopen. On 1 September 1990, Unter den Linden and Nordbahnhof were opened following reconstruction works. On 12 December 1990, Bornholmer Straße was reopened for West Berlin trains; a second platform for East Berlin trains allowing interchange followed on 5 August 1991. The very last ghost station to reopen was Potsdamer Platz, which opened on 3 March 1992, following an extensive restoration of the entire North-South tunnel.

In the following years, the city and German government put a great deal of effort into restoring and reunifying the S-Bahn and U-Bahn networks in Berlin. The U-Bahn system reached its pre-wall status in 1995 with the reopening of Warschauer Straße on U1. The S-Bahn system reached a preliminary completion in 2002 (with the reopening of the ring), even though there are still disused sections of lines closed in the aftermath of the wall. Decisions on reopening of some of these sections are still to be made.

This is a Nembrot demo site using the Maps theme. The text above is taken from Wikipedia: Ghost Station.

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