Blog #1: Berlin’s Anhalter Station
Done with InnoTrans 2016, we were meant to catch the shuttle bus from the Berlin Messe grounds to Schönefeld Airport. It never came so that never happened. And that’s not the point of this story. The point of this story is that sometimes when things go wrong, you end up learning something you otherwise would have missed out on. In our case, we ended up missing our flight home. We did however end up meeting an awesome Dutch guy who made the whole thing more enjoyable by drinking with us in the airport bar googling solutions.
After being presented with some genuinely unworkable options, we decided to catch the same flight the following day and find a hotel for the night, the Mövenpick Hotel in Berlin Kreuzberg. And as a side note, if you’re a fan of good whisky, come here.
The following morning we went out for breakfast and saw this structure across the road:
With our curiosity piqued, we decided to learn about it. Located on the Askanischer Platz, this structure is the portico fragment of the ‘Neues Anhalter Tor’ (‘New Anhalter Gate’). (Insert another quick side note here about the benefits of the internet and mobile devices…)
Berlin’s Anhalter Station
The original Anhalter Station was a terminus built by the Berlin-Anhaltische Eisenbahn-Gesellschaft to connect Berlin to the Duchy of Anhalt. It was inaugurated in 1841 and expanded several times due to increasing demand.
Following the creation of the German Empire in 1871, designs for a new station were approved and construction took place over the course of six years, from 1874 to 1880.
It was ceremonially inaugurated in 1880 by Emperor Wilhelm I and Otto von Bismarck. During its lifetime Anhalter Station was used for state receptions. During World War I then, troops departed for the front lines from this station. It continued to thrive after World War I – during the Weimar Republic. When Hitler was sworn in as chancellor in 1933, the Weimar Republic came to an end. Under Nazi rule, Berlin hosted the Olympic Summer Games in 1936 and it is said that during that period a train arrived or departed from Anhalter Station every two minutes. By 1939, the S-Bahn, the suburban North-South rail link, was complete.
The Second World War
During the Second World War, the number of trains servicing Berlin’s Anhalter Station decreased markedly. The scene was now characterised by hospital transports and travelling members of the SS. As of 1942, this station was also used for Nazi Germany’s systematic deportation of Jews. The site now features a memorial stele, documenting this horror. It reads in full:
“Remembrance of the Deportations to Theresienstadt – As of June 1942, the ‘transports of the old’ started departing Anhalter Station, taking the Jews of Berlin to Theresienstadt. By the end of March 1945 more than 15,000 Jews were transported from Berlin stations to this camp in modern-day Czech Republic. 116 such transports left Anhalter Station, a well-known and busy passenger station, until the end of the war. The individual transports tended to consist of 50 to 100 people; more than 9,600 people were taken to the camp from here. The deportations took place right amidst the regular passenger traffic. Generally speaking, two special third-class carriages, destined for Theresienstadt, were attached to the regular scheduled service to Dresden or Prague: departing 6.07am, platform 1. The predominantly older and old women and men had been brought to the station by tram or lorry from a ‘collection point’ early in the morning. On the platform they were almost indistinguishable in dress and luggage from the other passengers. Unlike them, however, they wore the yellow star and were surrounded by guards. This was visible to everyone. Theresienstadt was called a ‘ghetto for the old’ but was actually a ‘transit camp’: anyone who didn’t die there from disease and exhaustion was transported further east, generally to Auschwitz. During the Nazi dictatorship, three stations in Berlin were used as deportation stations: Grunewald Station, Moabit Freight Station and Anhalter Station. Between October 1941 and March 1945 more than 50,000 Jews from Berlin were deported. They were taken to the ghettos and concentration camps in German-occupied territory in eastern Europe. Only few survived.”
In February 1945 Anhalter Station was badly damaged by Allied aerial bombing attacks. The rubble was cleared and the station was made operable again. The population only used the trains now for mass flight.
The Battle of Berlin
In the Battle of Berlin, then, the people of the surrounding area sought shelter from artillery fire within the station hall as well as in the underground suburban railway station and the neighbouring Anhalter bunker. After Hitler’s death, the remaining Nazi leaders did what they could to prevent further influx of Soviet forces. They feared the Soviets could enter central Berlin via the railway tunnels. As a result, they ordered the bulkheads running under the canal to be blown up, causing 26km of tunnels and many stations to flood. These stations and tunnels had been used for shelter by the public and to accommodate hospital trains. Many drowned.
After the War
A basic rail service resumed in June 1946, with full services back in operation on the suburban line in November 1947. Anhalter Station was used by trains approaching from Soviet-controlled East Germany but was located in West Berlin. This being a problematic situation, rail services were moved to Ostbahnhof and demolition of Anhalter Station was begun eight years later in 1960. This caused pubic outcry and the portico fragment was allowed to remain. It is now listed and underwent refurbishment between 2003 and 2005.
Oak trees have been planted along the outline of the old station walls, with playing fields at the centre. In 2002 the Tempeldrom venue was opened next to the foundations of the South Gate. The above-ground terminus no longer exists, but the underground suburban rail line is still in operation and it was from here that took our train to catch our flight back home, this time successfully, later that day.
To read more about Berlin’s Anhalter Station, check out “Berlin Anhalter Bahnhof” by Peter G. Kliem and Klaus Noack.