“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

“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