“Paris is always Paris and Berlin is never Berlin”, said Jack Lang, former French Culture Minister. Lang captured the metamorphic, flowing nature of the German capital – or maybe the European capital, one should say. Such a mutant nature is nowhere clearer than in the city’s U-bahn (underground) network. Berlin’s public transit system travels every day a distance equivalent to circling the Earth 8.7 times. On the U-Bahn, you can encounter both the old Berliner and some of the half-millon foreigners from almost 200 countries who have chosen the city as their home.

Connecting them all

“This place is my life”, says Stefanie Rensch about Alexanderplatz. It’s the first place she saw when she arrived in the city from her hometown 70 km north. It’s the place of one of her first dates with the man who became his husband and father of her two children. It’s the place where her nights out as a student began and where she meets friends coming to visit her. The fact is, her story is probably shared by many Berliners: Alexanderplatz (Alex for the locals) is the crossroads of the city, the station connecting more U-Bahn and S-Bahn (suburban railway) than any other. The place has been a traffic hub since the 13th century, when it was an entry point for those coming to Berlin through its Oderberger Tor. It’s not happenstance that, centuries later, one million people gathered here in November 1989 in the largest demonstration in East Germany, which triggered the wall’s collapse. Notwithstanding its size and history, the station’s architecture is austere and minimalist. “I love its green-blue colours: the combination with the yellow colour of the trains is just great”, says Steffi.
STATION: Alexanderplatz
YEAR: 1913
NEIGHBOURHOOD: Mitte


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PHOTO CREDIT Sebastian Spasic

Einstein’s train

For Werner Friedrichs, the Bayerischer Platz station is the center of his life. He and his wife are co-founders of the  Citizens Action Committee that looks after the neighborhood. In the early 20th century, the “Bavarian quarter” of the Schönberg neighbourhood was inhabited by artists, scientists and intellectuals, many of them Jewish, including Albert Einstein (who took his train to work at this station), Erich Fromm, and others. The station was heavily bombed during World War II, in one occasion killing dozens of people on two trains. Later it was rebuilt, keeping the white and blue tiles that echo the Bavarian flag. Now the station combines transport with culture and gastronomy. Werner created an exhibition space in the upper part of the station (now called Cafe Haberland) as part of the program of Berlin Tourismus & Kongress GmbH/visitBerlin. This project, a joint venture between a citizen group and the public sector, displayis documents about past and current residents of the Bavarian quarter while offering an ongoing series of short films.
STATION: Bayerischer Platz
YEAR: 1910
NEIGHBOURHOOD: Bayerisches Viertel


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PHOTO CREDIT Sebastian Spasic

Plea for preservation

“The subway station Berliner Straße is as West Berlin as it can get”, says Udo Schmitz about this iconic station covered in intense red panels. One of the more heavily trafficked in Berlin, the station was built in 1971 by the unique architect Rainer G. Rümmler, whose list of accomplishments includes schools, pavilions and three U-Bahn stations. Udo, a graphic designer, is working on an art project aimed at capturing the belief in progress during Rümmler’s years, the 60s and 70s. “The parts of Berlin like Berliner Straße station remind me of the post-war housing developments of my West German hometown”, he explains. “I wish the city would do more for the historic preservation of buildings like it from post-war Berlin”, he says.
STATION: Berliner Strasse
YEAR: 1971
NEIGHBOURHOOD: Charlottenburg


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PHOTO CREDIT Sebastian Spasic

Architectural masterpiece

Antonio Luque immediately fell in love with the Deutsche Oper underground station when he arrived in Berlin four years ago. “I wanted to work as an architect and I was attracted by the dynamism of the city”, he recalls. The station, which is featured in videoclips and movies, like the 1998 Run Lola Run by Tom Tykwer, immediately grabbed his attention. “I was taken by its elegant metallic structure”, says Antonio. Then he discovered that its “marvelous” tiles had been designed by the Portuguese artist José de Guimarães and given as a gift to the city by the Portuguese ambassador. “The station is a perfect combination of industrial architecture and the contemporary arts”, he says.
STATION: Deutsche Oper
YEAR: 1906
NEIGHBOURHOOD: Charlottenburg


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PHOTO CREDIT Sebastian Spasic

Mother lode of creativity

The 1970s facade of this station is often compared to an oil platform set down in the middle of the city. According to Arthur Lagoeiro Alvarenga, Berlin’s U-Bahn is filled with riches, but not of the black gold variety. “On Friday and Saturday nights, young groups of every tribe hop inside the subway cars: people with all sorts of clothes, hair, skin, eye colours…”, says this Brazilian who has “simply fallen in love with the city’s freedom, acceptance and creative impulse”. He was drawn to Berlin shortly after dropping out of university. “I wanted to take my time and figure out what I actually want to do with no pressure”, he explains. “I`m not really sure about what happened, but so many hints about Berlin started to emerge”, he goes on. After couchsurfing for a while, he decided this was his place. “Something about Berlin makes you want to challenge yourself in a deep and positive way and start a never-ending search for what makes you you”, he says.
STATION: Fehrbelliner Platz
YEAR: 1913
NEIGHBOURHOOD: Wilmersdorf


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PHOTO CREDIT Sebastian Spasic

Underground novice

When Thai Hoang moved from Vietnam to Berlin five years ago, he had never taken an underground train. “There is only bus as a means of public transport in my country”, he says. While he was learning German, he also learned to use the underground. “In order to go to my language school, I had to take the subway at Innsbrucker Platz every day for six months: I could even recognize many of my fellow passengers”, he says. “Innsbrucker Platz is definitely a remarkable place in my timeline”. The station is special also for another reason: the U4 line that stops here has fewer wagons than the other lines because its short platform cannot cope with more than six.
STATION: Innsbrucker Platz
YEAR: 1910
NEIGHBOURHOOD: Schöneberg


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PHOTO CREDIT Sebastian Spasic

Sound of history

Sounds plays a big part in Susanne Werth’s connection with the U-Bahn. She played music in underground stations for a long time, her guitar echoing through the passageways. Now Susanne does not play anymore underground, but the station brings many memories to her mind. The station is named after the nearby bridge over the Spree River. The starting point for boat excursions on the river, the station was closed during the Cold War since it was in East Berlin. The entrances were completely walled off so only a faint rumble of moving trains could be heard – the music of the time. Jannowitzbrucke was the first ghost station to reopen, on 11 November 1989, just two days after the fall of Berlin’s wall, allowing Susanne and other street musicians to play there.
STATION: Jannowitzbrucke
YEAR: 1930
NEIGHBOURHOOD: Mitte


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PHOTO CREDIT Sebastian Spasic

Underground forest

Jungfernheide means “maidens’ forest”, named after a large forest that once stood near the station. Cultural activist Justin Raymond Merino believes that a new forest has replaced it – underground. Merino runs kulturspace, a brand and design consultancy that also publishes books and organizes events. Last year he was approached by a photographer, Claudio Galamini, who had spent months photographing all 173 stations of Berlin’s undergound, waiting for the right moment for each platform to be completely devoid of people. “It’s a surreal visual experience looking at these pictures as opposed to standing on the platform in the flesh, where we’re so often distracted by the chaos and bustling crowds that we forget to appreciate the history and art surrounding us”, says Justin. He decided to make a glossy photobook with Galamini’s pictures. “Berlin being the current epicentre of creative and cultural innovation, it seemed the right time to share a piece of the city’s rich history with the world”, he says. Jungfernheide is certainly one of the stations where colours, typography and design transform the underground space.
STATION: Jungfernheide
YEAR: 1980
NEIGHBOURHOOD: Charlottenburg


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PHOTO CREDIT Sebastian Spasic

Homage to heroism

Some Berliners say the psychedelic decoration of Mierendorff Platz gives them headaches. But the inspiration behind the red, black, and white butterfly-like shapes is not lightheaded whimsy. It’s all about the letter “M”, as in Mierendorff – Carlo Mierendorff. A socialist politician and scholar, he is one of the heroes of the unsung German resistence to Nazism. Unfortunately, he did not see the liberation of his country because he was killed in 1943 in an allied bombing on Leipzig. The homage to Mierendorff was done by Rainer G. Rümmler, the famed architect from the 1970s. One subway lover, Hartmut Weidemann, has no problem with the trippy red “M”s. Of course that’s to expected, since he loves just about everything on rails and runs a specialized shop for model railroad trains, including the U-Bahn.
STATION: Mierendorff Platz
YEAR: 1980
NEIGHBOURHOOD: Charlottenburg


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PHOTO CREDIT Sebastian Spasic

Bohemian ways

Daniel Friedrichs always brings a reusable coffee mug with him when he takes his daily train at Neukölln station. He used to buy a coffee to go, but an experience changed his ways. One day, after resting his cup momentarily on top of the ticket-validating machine, a man walked by and stuffed his used napkin into the coffee. “When I complained, he just laughed, gave me two euros and said: ‘That was definitely worth it!’”, says Daniel. The story is an example of the free spirit of this multicultural neighbourhood in Berlin. The station is a reference in the area, with a façade featured prominently in Neukölln Unlimited, a 2010 documentary about a Lebanese woman with two children passionate about hip hop and breakdance, as they struggle to survive in Germany and avoid the immigration police.
STATION: Neukölln
YEAR: 1930
NEIGHBOURHOOD: Neukölln


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PHOTO CREDIT Sebastian Spasic

In love with deep red

“The intense red of the Osloer Strasse station will always remind me the first summer I spent in Berlin, going to this station after a long afternoon at the lake; or switching at this station to go from work to the gym”, says Isis Caceres. The red colour that so impressed her comes from the gigantic Norwegian flags that decorate the station. Its name comes from the major street above, in honour of the Nordic capital. “As an interior designer, I was instantly attracted by the unusual, new spaces I found in Berlin’s underground”, says Isis. “Each one with its layering of different colours and striking architecture was a grand inspiration that added to my desire to come here”, she says.
STATION: Osloer Strasse
YEAR: 1976
NEIGHBOURHOOD: Gesundbrunnen


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PHOTO CREDIT Sebastian Spasic

Opening the bunker

Pankstrasse is a symbol of care and hope for Charlotte Schippmann. Near this station she meets weekly with a 14-year-old migrant girl to mentor her with her everyday problems. She volunteers at Schülerpaten Berlin e.V., an organization whose offices are close to Pankstrasse, too. Its objective is to improve educational opportunities for children and encourage cultural exchange. The positivity Charlotte associates with the station seems to be confirmed by the funny font (Octopuss) in which the name of the station is written. However, the station’s past is dark. Just on top of the train lines is one of the few remaining bunkers Hitler built all over Berlin when he sensed the end was near. The bunker was maintained during the Cold War. It could house more than 3,000 people for half a month in case of a nuclear attack. The bunker corridor leads directly to the U-Bahn station platform. In the event of an emergency, two trains would stop there to hold more people.
STATION: Pankstrasse
YEAR: 1977
NEIGHBOURHOOD: Gesundbrunnen


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PHOTO CREDIT Sebastian Spasic

A secret garden

Stars on the ceiling, flowers on the walls and vegetable-pattern mosaics: this is what Kerstin Reppin sees every day when he goes underground to take the train to work. This secret garden is a work by one of the main architects of Berlin’s U-Bahn: Rainer G. Rümmler. The decoration of the station includes also gigantic trees adorned with geometric shapes, giving a double meaning to what in reality are the columns of the building. The station’s name contains another secret: Paul Stern was the owner of a pub so famous that a whole are of Spandau is named after him. And let’s not forget that Stern means “star” in English, thus the ceiling decoration.
STATION: Paulsternstrasse
YEAR: 1984
NEIGHBOURHOOD: Spandau


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PHOTO CREDIT Sebastian Spasic

Caught in the middle

“The very night in which Berlin’s wall fell, a friend of mine, her father, and I went to Potsdamer Platz and climbed the wall”, says Eleni Siozos. “For me, this place is the symbol of change and reconstruction”. In fact, the Potsdamer Platz station was special since its creation – it was the first underground to operate in Berlin. In 1961, the wall was built right on top of it. The station was at the border between East and West Berlin, and it was closed to prevent people from crossing the border through it. It became the most famous “ghost station”: the underground stops that were sealed during the division of the city. “Half a year after the fall of the wall, I strolled with my grandmother here, in the former “no man’s land” along the border”, says Eleni. “I still remember how that void impressed me”. The station was finally redesigned and reopened in 1993. Now, the square is decorated by stunningly modern buildings, like the Sony Center, with an eclectic mix of shops, restaurants, museums, cinemas, high-end residences and more. “When all this was built, my weekend hobby became coming here to discover the new corners of the city”, Eleni adds.
STATION: Potsdamer Platz
YEAR: 1902
NEIGHBOURHOOD: Potsdamer Platz


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PHOTO CREDIT Sebastian Spasic

Berlin’s quintessence

“This station stands for all the things that I always thought Berlin was: there is a famous composer, there is a Nazi past, there is colourful design, and there is the transformation of old buildings into new ones…”, says George Pavlopoulos to sum up why he loves this station so much. The original was designed by Alfred Grenander, one of the most prominent architects during the early period of the U-Bahn. Later, it was redesigned by Rainer G. Rümmler, the other architect inextricably associated with Berlin’s subway. Rümmler designed the station using colorful tiles around images of Richard Wagner’s operas, in homage to the composer’s legacy. The architect also incorporated a series of Byzantine-style mosaics from the demolished Bayernhof Hotel, near Potsdamer Platz: a transformation and reuse approach that is typical of Berlin, George points out. But there’s more to the story: the Bayernhof was also the place where three Bulgarians were arrested in 1933 after the great Reichstag fire, which was used as an anti-communist propaganda tool by Hitler. “It is a memory that haunts the city and it’s all about the efforts that Berlin is making to protect every single piece of that collective memory”, he says.
STATION: Richard - Wagner Platz
YEAR: 1906
NEIGHBOURHOOD: Charlottenburg


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PHOTO CREDIT Sebastian Spasic

Crossing point

“Rosenthaler Platz stands for the departure point into a new era”, says Mathias Bartsch. The place has been an important junction since its creation. It once hosted the Rosenthal Gate, a Roman-like triumphal arch with columns, that was the only point through which Jews could enter Berlin. After being a ghost station for decades, it became a border crossing once the Wall came down. “Then, people from East and West came together: this is the symbol of intercultural understanding”, says Matti van Helmi. He is in love with the orange color of the tiles, the inspired choice of Alfred Grenander, the architect who designed most of the early underground stations in Berlin. “The logo of my company, Vegan4Dogs, carries that colour: it embodies interspecies understanding, which is the next step we will take”, says Matti. The same orange is used in the packaging for the company’s vegan dog kibble, named after Matti’s dog, Edgar. “Our vision is to spread love throughout the species and Rosenthaler Platz really is a perfect memory to pick up and start from”, he concludes.
STATION: Rosenthaler Platz
YEAR: 1930
NEIGHBOURHOOD: Brunnenstrasse


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PHOTO CREDIT Sebastian Spasic

Well-guarded jewel

The Rudesheimer Platz station is the entry point to a well-guarded jewel in Berlin: the Rheingau-Viertel neighbourhood, which was left largely untouched by the allied bombings at the end of World War II. Built under Kaiser Wilhelm II’s reign (1888-1918), the area features classical squares, beautiful front lawns, carved stone porticoes and red-tile roofs. It’s one of the most beautiful places in the world, according to Julia Busch, a master glazier whose workshop is on Rüdesheimer Square. The street of the same name was called one of 12 favourite streets in Europe by the New York Times. The station itself is a lofty space with granite columns and mosaics by architect Willy Leigebel. Above it, in the heart of the square, is a flower garden and fountain. The tranquility turns incredibly lively between May and September, during the Weinbrunnen, a festival with live music and an outdoor market that gathers wine producers from Germany and Austria.
STATION: Rudesheimer Platz
YEAR: 1913
NEIGHBOURHOOD: Rheingau-Viertel


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PHOTO CREDIT Sebastian Spasic

Testament to industry

Kiran Talat came to Berlin from Turkey in 1970 as a second-generation guest worker. His is father had come before him and opened a little tailor’s shop. In 1991, Kiran took over his father’s workshop, and thanks to the industry of father and son they are now one among the millions of Berliners. His expertise can be seen in quality of textiles he uses and the elegance of their cut. Kiran’s shop is right next to the Siemensdamm Station, which is in itself a monument to Germany’s drive towards economic development, drawing people from all over the world in search of a better life. The station is named after a giant of German industry, Siemens, located in different facilities in the station’s vicinity.
STATION: Siemensdamm
YEAR: 1980
NEIGHBOURHOOD: Spandau


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PHOTO CREDIT Sebastian Spasic

Crossroads of style

“I love using the underground because people with very different cultures and styles mix there”, says Elisa Zeller, a jewelry designer. “I see a woman close to me with an interesting ring: when I go home, I sketch it and keep the drawing for inspiration.” Along with new ideas, the tube gives her the chance to study future clients, she adds. A favorite spot for new discoveries is Westhafen station, located near West Harbour, a gigantic inland port built in 1923 whose bustling activity shaped Berlin’s industrial landscape in the 20th century. The station opened in 1961, soon after the building of the Berlin Wall. In the year 2000, artists Françoise Schein and Barbara Reiter erased its gloomy origins with a renovation, including the installation of wall texts from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and quotes by the writer Heinrich Heine in both German and French.
STATION: Westhafen
YEAR: 1961
NEIGHBOURHOOD: Moabit


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PHOTO CREDIT Sebastian Spasic

Endless inspiration

The beautiful Art Nouveau entrance hall at Wittenbergplatz station fired the imagination of the young blogger Nele Blu, when she first went to Berlin from her town in the Lausitz region. “That station was my first stop, and it still is, whenever I get back from a trip”, she says. Built in 1913 by leading U-Bahn architect Alfred Grenader, the station is one of the oldest in Berlin. One of its platforms features a sign with the station's name in the distinctive round, red and blue style of signage on the London Tube. It’s not a coincidence. The sign was donated by London Transport in 1952 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the U-Bahn. A few steps out from the station you find yourself in one of Berlin’s major shopping streets, including KaDeWe, the second largest department store in Europe after Harrods in London. There is much to choose from – and many images for Nele to add to her Instagram page. “Sometimes I meet my friends on the north side and visit the farmer's market”, she says. “On other days I stroll aimlessly through the densely packed streets and let my thoughts run freely amid the crowds”. Some of those thoughts end up in her blog.
STATION: Wittenbergplatz
YEAR: 1902
NEIGHBOURHOOD: Schöneberg


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PHOTO CREDIT Sebastian Spasic

“Berlin is poor but sexy”, said former Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit, who left office in 2014 after 13 years. Since then, the city has changed a lot, and a more updated definition was given by US law professor Hiroshi Motomura: “Berlin combines the culture of New York, the traffic system of Tokyo, the nature of Seattle, and the historical treasures of, well, Berlin”. Perhaps the quintessential nature of this eclectic, creative and modern environment is not only found on the surface. If you go below it, and explore the underground world of the city, you will see that same personality in the letters and colours of its walls.
License: Creative Commons Attribution No Derivatives 4.0