Nordbahnhof S-Bahn station looked sad and angry. The abandoned walls of the building were full of demands and sorrow. The empty tunnel wasn’t inviting. The dimmed lights showed narrow corridor, with empty walls, uneven surface and mustard coloured ceiling. For a moment I felt like in a hospital. The same which was featured in “The Kingdom”, directed by Lars Von Trier.
The exhibition at the station is one way of showing the absurdity of living in a divided Berlin. The Wall, built in 1961, affected not only life above the ground but the well-established and heavily used public transport system. The U-Banh and S-Banh networks run through the whole Berlin, taking people from one side of the city to another. The two lines of the U-Banh and one line of the S-Banh passed beneath East Berlin and you were able to travel from one section of the West Berlin to another. You could connect with two parts of the city until the Wall was erected. After that the trains on these lines could no longer stop in the East and could only be accessed from the platforms located in the West Berlin.
For the privileged of keeping these lines running the GDR government made West Berlin pay handsomely. In 1984 the West Berlin Senate had to pay approximately 8 million German marks to use one S-Banh line! And it was for one line only, throughout the period of few years, until 1989, when the Wall finally came down.
The Wall erected above the ground was constantly perfected. The East Germany government had a lot of time to do that, since the Wall was there for three decades. When it became clear that people are trying to escape by using underground public transport system, new barricades, barriers and signal devices were employed to make this route of escape invincible. Money was not an issue for the GDR government. No surprises here, since they were charging so much for the use of 3 lines West Germany needed. The Bernaure Strasse subway station, located directly on the border, was one of the border stations that was secured in this way.
Furthermore, the stations situated in East Berlin on a lines crossing from one part of divided Berlin to another, disappeared from the city scape and visibly from the public consciousness. The underground entrances were identified as possible connections to the western part of the city and as such were locked, walled up and any signs indicating what they were were brutally removed. This action was successful, as over the time people forgot about them completely.
What is really surprising though – not only civilians were trying to escape. The number of border soldiers disappeared during the duty on a subway station.
“On June 22, 1963, (…) three border guards fled from the Heinrich-Heine-Strasse subway station to West Berlin. After the first one escaped the second one went to look for him – and did not come back. Then the third one followed. For this reason border soldiers were just as suspect as the GDR citizens that they were supposed to be guarding. To prevent them from escaping, bunkers were erected on the platforms of the western lines and the guards were locked inside while on duty. The exits were also secured with signalling devices. Not until the late eighties were plans made to build additional doors into the bunkers or equip already existing doors with combination locks so that when an accident or fire occurred, the guards could reach the platforms, help passengers or rescue themselves.” Such was the need to keep the border protected…
Next story is even more interesting: “The corporal Bodo Z, squad leader of the border troops, escaped shortly after Christmas 1962. He assigned himself to guard the Walter-Ulbricht-Stadion station (todays Schwartzkopfstrasse) on the night of December 27. He left his post at around 3 in the morning. 15 minutes later the other border soldiers noticed he was missing. They searched in the subway station, the station platform and the subway tunnel, all the way to the West Berlin border without finding him. They were not allowed to cross the border marked with a line in a subway tunnel. But an employee of the transport system discovered footprints under the airshaft that served as an emergency exit on the West Berlin side and found the gate to the street open. Bodo Z. had followed the platform in the direction of West Berlin, jump onto the tracks and run about 250 meters through the subway tunnel towards West Berlin.”
The necessity of escaping the regime was great and people were trying anything to get on the other side. The story of Dieter Wendt and his family is one not to be forgotten: “Dieter Wendt found a cleverly devised escape for his and his cousin’s family. As an employee of the East Berlin transport system he was familiar with the Berlin underground tunnel system. On March 8, 1980, he was able to lead the two families unnoticed from the Klosterstrasse subway station along the underground track of Line 2 into a connecting tunnel (Waisentunnel) almost to the track of Line 8 which ran to West Berlin. The Waisentunell is blocked by a massive steel partition that was installed to stop flooding. Wendt left the others in a chamber placed over the partition that contained the blocked-off exit to Line 8. He returned to the Jannoviztbrucke station which, as a trackman, he was allowed to access. He broke open the door to the chamber from the other side and was able to get his family out. He stopped the next subway traveling to West Berlin and the surprised train operator allowed the fugitives to hide in operator’s cab.”
The exhibition at the ghost station is free and well worth visiting. The Wall dividing Berlin reached in all directions, touching every aspect of Berliners lives, taking away the freedom and changing the way people were thinking, making them forgot what was it like when there was only one Berlin.
• Nordbahnhof S-Bahn station; entrance on Gartenstrasse; on the mezzanine
• Admission free
• Open during the station’s hours of operation.
S-Banh S1, S2, S25: S-Bahnhof Nordbahnhof,
Bus 245, 247: S-Bahnhof Nordbahnhof,
U-Banh U6: U-Bahnhof Naturkundemuseum,
U8: U-Bahnhof Bernauer Straße,
Tram M10: S-Bahnhof Nordbahnhof,
Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer
There is The Berlin Wall Memorial nearby.