The East German government in August 1961 built the Berlin Wall, thus ending freedom of movement between East and West Berlin. As a result, Berlins public transport network, of which used to span both halves of the city effectively, became divided into two just like the nation. Some U-Bahn and S-Bahn feel entirely into one half of the city or the other, however, other lines were divided between the two different jurisdictions, resulting in trains running only to the border and then turning back or created ghost stations. Nordbahnhof S-Bahn station evokes a special chapter in Berlin’s history of division: the closed-down and heavily guarded train stations of the U-Bahn and S-Bahn lines in East Berlin. The underground S-Bahn station today is all that remains of the Nordbahnhof long-distance station that once stood there.
There is an exhibition in the Nordbahnhof station today that shows the division of the three U-Bahn and S-Bahn lines that crossed through East Berlin while traveling from one end of West Berlin to the other. Between 1961 and 1989, these lines had a special status within the city’s public transportation system that was otherwise divided. The trains on these lines (today’s it is subway lines U6 and U8 and the north-south rail of the S-Bahn) no longer stopped at the deserted train stations in East Berlin and the stations could not be used from there. The name Geisterbahnhof (Ghost station) was applied by the Westerners as they watched out the windows of the trains to the dimly lit heavily guarded stations.“For West Berliner’s, the daily passage beneath East Berlin continued to be a strange experience. The closed-down stations came to be known as ‘ghost stations’ in West Berlin. The trains slowed down before entering the stations, but they did not stop. Armed guards from East Germany stood in the dimly-lit stations and before the trains entered East Berlin a loudspeaker announcement was made: “Last station in West Berlin!” (Berlin Wall memorial 2012).
The West Berlin public transport maps during the period labeled these ghost stations as ‘Bahnhöfe, auf denen die Züge nicht halten’ (‘stations at which the trains do not stop’), where as East Berlin public underground maps did not depict Western lines or ghost stations at all.
The exhibit uses the Berlin former ghost station underground to address themes of the memorial of the division of the city, the migration to the West and the true extent of living with the border fortifications. It also integrates the perspective of East Berliners of who no longer had access to the trains traveling to the West therefore they tried to use the underground tunnels as a way to escape to the West.
By Rebecca Holland
Berlin wall memorial 2012- http://www.berliner-mauer-gedenkstaette.de/en/geisterbahnhoefe-558.html