Exploring Berlin's Past: The Siemensbahn
The impacts of the wall that split Berlin in two have been certainly been discussed, but they will probably never be fully understood. Die Mauer tore apart neighborhoods, dissected families, and leveled city blocks. But one seldom noted way the wall affected daily life was a fairly mundane one: transit. It turns out that hacking a city in half will cause some complications on the ground!
One lesser-known casualty of the Cold War was the Siemensbahn. Constructed in 1927 by its eponymous administrator, this short stretch of S-bahn track connected the ring at Jungfernheide to what was (and is) known as the Siemensstadt, a weird, 19th century-flavored combination factory and corporate-run city that joined Berlin in 1920. Happy Siemens employees from inner Berlin could catch the Ringbahn to Jungfernheide and transfer to the Siemensbahn, which would take them directly to their jobs. Convenient right?
However the stress of the divided city proved too much for the young train line. Rivalry between the DDR-operated S-bahn and the western-approved BVG starved the single-purpose line of riders, and by the 1970s traffic had been fallen to only a few trains per hour. A 1980 workers’ strike provided the death blow and the line was shuttered, never to be used again.
But, since this is Berlin, it’s still there. A bit of creativity and some climbing skills get you onto the tracks easily enough. The line stretches from the Spree at the truncated Fürstbrunner Brücke, where its connection to the Ringbahn was rudely severed in the process of widening a canal in 2005, up a bit less than 5km to the former S-Bhf Gartenfeld (which was converted to a garden center, now also abandoned).
After the initial effort, walking along the train line more closely resembles a leisurely stroll in the woods than it does hardcore urban exploration. There can be some dicey moments, depending how far you climb onto the standing half of the Fürstbrunner Brücke, but for the most part the ground remains securely beneath your feet and all the structures seem relatively sound.
What does the future hold for the Siemensbahn? In 2014, Stuttgart architecture students laid out a multitude of plans surely inspired by New York’s High Line, and some have even talked about using the line to finally connect the S-bahn to the future-former Tegel Airport, an idea that seems naively hopeful at best given the unending flughafen fiasco going down further south. Based on the pace that things seem to change around here, you’re probably fine if you wait for better weather to check this one out.
Shout out to Abandoned Berlin, whose great exploratory work tipped me off to the Siemensbahn in the first place, and whose new book, Verlassene Orte / Abandoned Berlin, should be hitting the shelves at any moment.
Verlassene Strecke mit Potenzial - Qiez.de
Die Siemensbahn - Stillgelegte S-bahn
Siemensbahn - Bahninfo
Die City-West hat Pläne für Siemensstadt - Berliner Zeitung
Siemensbahn: The ghost stations of Siemens' abandoned S-Bahn line - Abandoned Berlin
By Conor O’Rourke
Conor is a freelance writer and editor living in Berlin. He likes bikes, rap music, and tacos. Find more of his work at Conororourke.com