The Ghost Stations of Berlin

33 years ago today the Berlin Wall finally opened. There’s been a huge amount written about the main events, so I won’t go into them here. Instead the focus is on the “Ghost Stations” (Geisterbahnhöfe) those stations in East Berlin that were closed, but had trains running through them. The three U-Bahn and S-Bahn lines (today’s U6 and U8 and the north-south S-Bahn line) that ran under East Berlin continued to run, but from 1961 to 1989, trains no longer stopped at the deserted stations in East Berlin. They passed slowly through them and armed guards could be seen on dimly lit platforms. Before the trains entered East Berlin, a warning would come over the U-Bahn loudspeaker: “Last stop in West Berlin!”

As the Berlin Wall was progressively strengthened, people began finding other ways to escape to the West and started looking underground. Some ventured through the sewers, others dug tunnels beneath the wall. Escapes through the U-Bahn and S-Bahn lines were also tried, and the GDR government developed a complex installation of blockades and alarms to prevent themm. In the Alexanderplatz subway station, a wall was built to block the U8 line platform to create a pathway allowing East Berlin passengers reach Lines 2 and 5 from Alexanderplatz without it being obvious they had entered a station platform of a west line. Some stations, such as Unter Der Linden had all traces of their existence removed above ground.

Border soldiers monitored the station platforms, tracks and alarm systems from bunkers built into former coffee kiosks on platforms. Steel grilles were lowered across the tracks at night or when an alarm was set off. Light barriers indicated movement in the track area and pressure sensitive footboards in the tunnels set off an alarm when they were stepped on. Metal gratings at the end of the platforms were designed to prevent someone jumping onto the tracks from the platform. The bunkers of the border guards were also equipped with a signaling device that notified when a guard left his post without permission, as several guards successfully escaped through the tunnels themselves.

Friedrichstrasse was an exception, although it was in East Berlin, it served as a transfer point between the U6 and several  S Bahn lines. Western passengers could change lines without leaving the station or showing their papers, in a similar way to airline passenegrs changing planes at an international airport. Westerners with the correct visa could also enter East Berlin there. There was a labyrinthine maze of tunnels and walkways designed to prevent any direct contact with GDR-citizens.

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 (Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-1989-1111-007 / Roeske, Robert / CC-BY-SA 3.0)

A 1979 GDR S Bahn map, with none of the ghost stations marked as even existing

Jannowitzbrücke was the first ghost station to reopen to passenger traffic on November 11, 1989, two days after the fall of the wall. East German customs and border control had a checkpoint in the station and hand-drawn destination signs were hung up on the platforms. After extensive cleaning and removal of the barricades, all stations had been reopened by 1 July 1990. Today it’s impossible to tell that the situation existed as you pass through the U Bahn. There is a permanent exhibition about the ghost stations at Nordbahnhof station



There’s also this unique film over on Youtube which gives a glimpse of Potsdamer Platz station

The first parts of the wall being demolished by citizens near the Brandenburg Gate, around midnight between 09. and 10.11.1989

The Wall memorial site and visitor centre is adjacent to Nordbahnhof station

If you’re thinking of visiting Berlin, check out the accomodation available at Booking.com. This affiliate link gives me a small commission that helps to pay for the upkeep of this site and doesn’t cost you any extra.

When the left luggage point at the station isn’t convenient I use Radical Storage. The network of shops and other outlets worldwide keeps your bag safe and it’s all managed through the app. So if you arrive in a city with no local currency and the station lockers don’t take card payments, Radical Storage will work. This is an affiliate link that earns me a small commission when you join.

Thanks for reading. Check out my other posts on travel, heritage railways and more.
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