Arms of Berlin circa 1839 Arms of Anhalt, late 19th century

Anhalter Bahnhof, Berlin

A brief history

Anhalter Bahnhof 2007
Remains of the Anhalter Bahnhof main line station in 2007,
with entrance to S-bahn station in the foreground

During a visit to Berlin in 2007, I discovered the magnificent remnant of railway architecture depicted above. Although ruined, it has obviously been carefully preserved from further deterioration. I determined to find out more; this article is the result of that research. -GW

On this page:

Construction

The railway from Berlin to Jüterbog opened in 1841, the first section of the Berlin-Anhaltische Eisenbahn which would connect the capital of the Prussian Province of Brandenburg with the tiny Duchy of Anhalt-Dessau. It was not the first railway in the German Confederation (that was the Bayerische Ludwigseisenbahn, opened in 1835 between Nürnberg and Fürth) nor even the first to reach Berlin (that was the Berlin-Potsdamer Eisenbahn, opened in 1838).

Anhalter Bahnhof 1841
The original terminal building of the Anhalter Bahnhof in 1841

The Berlin terminus of the Anhalter Eisenbahn (as it was also called) was situated just outside the Prussian built city wall. A new gate had been opened in the wall to serve the needs of the station - the Anhalter Tor. The main station building faced a square in front of the gate. This square was named Askanischer Platz, in honour of the Ascania family, the ruling house of Anhalt since the Middle Ages. The square retains this name to the present day.

It is worth noting here that the Anhalter Bahnhof was less than 1km distant from the Potsdamer Bahnhof. The latter was located facing Potsdamer Platz, opposite the Potsdamer Tor, in what is now Tilla Durieux Park. South of the Landwehrkanal, the Potsdamer and Anhalter lines ran within a few hundred metres of one another, which is significant to the later development of lines in the area.

Map of Berlin 1869 Extract from an 1869 map of Berlin
showing the Potsdamer Bahnhof, Anhalter Bahnhof
and the interconnecting lines south of the Landwehrkanal

Rebuilding

In the 1870s a new, larger station was planned. In part, this was to cater for increased traffic on the original lines, but it would also take much of the traffic from the Dresdner Bahnhof, opened in 1875 but inconveniently sited south of the Landwehrkanal. The new station was opened in 1880.

Anhalter Bahnhof circa 1910
Anhalter Bahnhof circa 1910

Much was made of the size of its trainshed, which was claimed as the largest in Continental Europe: thus conveniently excluding from consideration Barlow's superb pioneering structure at St Pancras station in London, which opened a few years earlier and was somewhat larger in size. The St Pancras trainshed stands to this day, and is now used by Eurostar international trains via the Channel Tunnel.

Nevertheless, the 1880 Anhalter Bahnhof designed by Franz Heinrich Schwechten was a magnificent and impressive structure. As well as the trainshed, an imposing entrance building was constructed, adorned with statues by prominent sculptors of the day: Die Weltverkehr (The Traffic of the World) by Emil Hundrieser above the trainshed, and Nacht und Tag (Night and Day) by Ludwig Brunow, either side of the clock face above the portico.

The S-Bahn

A new north-south underground railway link for Berlin was planned in the 1930s. Although intended to be opened in time for the Berlin Olympic Games of 1938, the section serving the Anhalter Bahnhof station did not in fact open until 1939. The new line formed part of an ambitious plan for the city and its railways which included concentrating all main line trains on just two termini, near the present day S-Bahn stations of Wedding and Südkreuz. Amongst other things, this would have resulted in the huge trainshed of the Anhalter Bahnhof becoming redundant; Hitler’s architect, Albert Speer, had plans to convert it into an indoor swimming pool. However, events were to take a very different turn as a result of the Second World War.

The Second World War and its Aftermath

The ruined station following the Second World War
The ruined station following the Second World War

Like much of Berlin, the Anhalter Bahnhof suffered devastating damage from Allied bombing during the latter part of the war. In spite of this, main line services from the station resumed in 1948, although the once proud overall roof had now been dismantled.

Traffic did not survive for long, however. The Anhalter Bahnhof was located in the American sector of Berlin, but virtually all its traffic originated in Russian controlled East Germany, which in 1949 became the German Democratic Republic. As tensions rose between East and West, this situation was clearly untenable and in 1952 the GDR authorities diverted all main line trains from the south via the Berlin orbital railway (the Ringbahn) to the Ostbahnhof, located in East Berlin, thus effectively closing the Anhalter Bahnhof.

The S-Bahn, too, was heavily damaged in the War. It reopened fully in 1947 and continued to operate through the Cold War period. However, when the city was divided by the Berlin Wall in 1961, trains ceased to call at stations in the Russian sector such as Unter den Linden and Potsdamer Platz. These became “ghost stations” (Geisterbahnhöfe), trains running through without stopping, often with the sight of armed guards on the platforms. This strange situation persisted until reunification in 1990.

The Present Day

Overview of rail lines in the area

The redundant buildings of the Anhalter Bahnhof were demolished in 1960. In response to local concerns, part of the entrance portico was left standing; it remains in place to this day, as can be seen in the picture at the head of the page. This portico carried the 19th century statues of Ludwig Brunow; they were replaced in 2003 by replicas, and the originals were moved to the Deutsches Technikmuseum housed in the former Anhalter Güterbahnhof. The area of the Anhalter Bahnhof passenger trainshed is now occupied by a full sized football pitch, thus giving some idea of the scale of the original structure. Immediately to the south of this is located the striking modern Tempodrom event and conference venue, opened in 2001.

In 2006, a new North-South rail link opened through the area, much of it in tunnel. It has stations at Yorckstraße and Potsdamer Platz, though not at Anhalter Bahnhof. It forms part of a massive revision of the railways around Berlin to concentrate all main line traffic into and out of Berlin at a single station for the first time in nearly 170 years. The new Hauptbahnhof opened on May 28th, 2006; it is located on the site of the former Lehrter Stadtbahnhof.

Anhalter Güterbahnhof

The goods station associated with the Anhalter Eisenbahn was located to the south of the Landwehrkanal. Like the passenger station, it opened in 1874. It closed for general goods traffic following the Second World War but it believed to have been used by infrastructure trains until the early years of the 21st century. One block of the original station buildings survived the bombings of the Second World War and, along with parts of the former locomotive depot, now forms part of the Deutsches Technikmuseum (German Museum of Technology).

Dresdner Bahnhof

The Dresdner Bahnhof closed in 1882 with the enlargement of the Anhalter Bahnhof, but reopened 30 years later in a new role as postal station, the Postbahnhof. It retained this function until final closure in 1997. Buildings of the original Dresdner Bahnhof and of the Postbahnhof survive to the present day, and have seen various uses. The Postbahnhof was for a time a concert venue; the latter has since relocated to a new venue near the Ostbahnhof, but retains the name of Postbahnhof.

Potsdamer Bahnhof

There were essentially three stations at Potsdamer Platz: the original Berlin-Potsdamer Eisenbahn station opened in 1838; the Ringbahnhof, which carried traffic to and from the Berlin Ringbahn (orbital railway); and the Wannsee Bahnhof, which took local services running on the Potsdam line as far as Wannsee, thus relieving pressure on the main line station which was then able to concentrate on longer distance services. Both the Ringbahnhof and the Wannsee Bahnhof opened in 1891.

Potsdamer Platz U-Bahn station opened in 1902, though it was at first inconveniently located and moved to a new site in 1907. This provided excellent opportunities for connections from the inner city to the Potsdam line.

The S-Bahn station opened in 1939 but did not serve the main sation for very long; the Potsdamer Bahnhof, together with the adjacent Ringbahnhof and Wannsee Bahnhof, were extensively damaged in the Second World War and never reopened. Long distance trains from Postdam and beyond would thereafter reach Berlin via the Stadtbahn. The line to Wannsee eventually reopened, but as part of the S-Bahn system, connecting with the north-south S-Bahn link north of Yorckstraße.

The site of the Potsdamer Bahnhof is now occupied by a large shopping mall facing Potsdamer Platz. Its former railway approaches have become an attractive public park, the Tilla Durieux Park.

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© 2008-2011 Glyn Williams
including the photograph at the head of the page and the diagrammatic map of the area.
The 1945 image is copied from a photograph in the possession of the Anhalter Bahnhof Bunker Museum.
All other images are believed to be public domain.
Sources include Wikipedia and Berliner Stadtplanarchiv.

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