Sunday, 25 September 2011

Multi Platz

Part two of my Berlin U-Bahn romp.  The first part is here.  Go on, you know you want to.

Nollendorfplatz U1 U2 U3 U4

Nollendorfplatz station is graced with this beautiful canopy, calling you in.  Sadly it's not the original, which was bombed during the Second World War, but is a more recent copy.  It's gorgeous, and looks even better lit up at night like a chandelier:

It's just as beautiful below ground, having been tastefully restored by BVG.  The escalator hall features a tiled light well leading down to the platform itself, with the other stations on the line picked out.

It's all so pleasant.  The great thing about the U-Bahn in general is its simplicity.  By sticking to one basic station design - a single island platform, stairs at each end - it becomes a joy to travel on.  While the London Underground can sometimes become overwhelming, a maze of staircases and tunnels and signs, the U-Bahn is elegant and understated.  It has tiny details like the light well that just add to the experience - a dollop of cream on top of your pie, if you like.

Nollendorf is next to the city's main gay area, the Fuggerstraße, and on one external wall is an understated memorial to the homosexuals killed during the Holocaust.  A poignant but appreciated tribute.  

From there it's a five minute walk to my favourite of Berlin's gay bars, the Blond, which has an absolutely gorgeous barman I almost embarrassed myself over (Robert, in the third picture - dreamy sigh).  He was so utterly wonderful I almost considered staying in the city purely so I could perv at him every night.

Olympia-Stadion U2

The 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin were one of the greatest propagandist events in history.  Thousands of Germans turned out to glorify Nazi superiority, not the Olympic ideals of equality and humanity.  The simple sports complex in the North of the city was torn down and rebuilt in record time as a crucible for Nazi glories: a place for the Germans to assert their superiority over the globe.

It didn't quite work like that of course, and after the war the Reichssportfeld fell under British administration.  They used the Olympic complex as their HQ and, despite the calls for its demolition, carefully restored much of the site to its pre-war state.  They recognised its importance as a building, not as a Nazi mouthpiece.  You can't deny that the Olympia-Stadion is a fantastic piece of architecture.  Its symmetry, elegance and awe-inspiring design make it as great today as it was when it was built, especially since careful restoration for the 2006 World Cup has brought it up to modern standards without destroying its sensibilities.  There are a number of excellent exhibitions in the complex which give its history without sugar coating its more disturbing side (throughout my visit I was impressed and slightly humbled by the German willingness to acknowledge and apologise for their crimes during the war).

Of course, the vast quantities of spectators (the stadium could originally accommodate 110,000 people) needed public transport to get them there, and so the U-Bahn station was also rebuilt in a similar style.  From the platforms upwards, you can feel the quality and the determination to impress the passenger as they arrive.  Everything about the station felt big and grand - wide staircases leading up to an open concourse.  I pictured myself among the excited Olympic throng, headed to the station.  Damn, I wish I'd got tickets to London 2012.

From the outside, the station looks like a truncated Arnos Grove.  It has that station's brilliant use of brick as a canvas, but it doesn't have the London station's great drum, or its grandeur.  It does serve as a wonderful sign for the passengers though.

I loved it.  Which probably makes me a fascist or something but I couldn't help it.  The lines of it, the solid yet graceful construction, that subtle 1930s vibe.  It's a shame that something so wonderful has something so evil behind it.

Pichelsberg S3 S75

I'd planned on getting back to the city centre from the stadium by the Olympiastadion (no hyphen) S-bahn station, but somehow we took a wrong turn and ended up at Pichelsberg instead.

This wasn't actually a bad thing.  The route to the station was along quiet, tree-lined lanes with only the odd house and stable, and when we got there, it was clear it had been given a makeover for the World Cup, and as such looked gorgeous.  Wood isn't used enough in train architecture.  It's a very calming building material, very elegant, and in amongst the wooded cutting it felt even more relaxing.  It was a zen-station.

This was my first time on an S-Bahn train.  In case you don't know the difference between the U-Bahn and the S-Bahn, the U-Bahn runs underground, except when it's overground, and the S-Bahn is overground, except when it's underground.  Hope that clears things up.

The U-Bahn's actually more of an inner city service, while the S-Bahn heads out into the suburbs.  Broadly speaking, Merseyrail's an S-Bahn, though the definition is somewhat wooly and some people can get very steamed up about it.

Anyway, Pichelsberg: it's lovely.

Incidentally, on the journey back we were sat opposite the most slappable child in Western Europe.  He was about five and was clearly in the middle of a strop to end all strops, leading to him screaming, shouting, stamping his feet and at one point punching his mother in the face.  Her reaction was just to say "Nikolas" a lot, which is a bit like trying to put out the Towering Inferno by emptying your coffee cup on it.  By the time we got off the train the Bf and I were close to pushing little Nikolas under the tracks ourselves.

Wilmersdorfer Strasse U7

I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a party animal.  For example, I am writing this on a Sunday afternoon; I've had two cans of Fanta and I'm looking forward to watching that episode of Outnumbered I recorded on Friday.  Then I'll probably go to bed.  I've never smoked a cigarette, I've never taken part in a fourgy, and I've never read Hunter S Thompson.  In short, I'm dull.

However, thanks to Wilmersdorfer Strasse, I now know what it's like to have an acid trip.

Imagine stumbling down to the U-Bahn after a heavy night.  You're on your way to work, bleary eyed, smelling of last night's tobacco, your shirt askew and clinging to a can of Red Bull.  Then you find yourself staring at a giant tiled vagina.

Still it could be worse.  It could be Bismarckstraße.

Bismarckstraße U2 U7

Jesus Christ.  And look at the monkey:

Frankly if you ran home screaming after that, I wouldn't blame you.

Ernst-Reuter-Platz U2

Originally known as Knie, Ernst-Reuter-Platz served as the terminus of the very first U-Bahn line, and opened in 1902.  Its importance has been commemorated with a small plaque by BVG:

I may have only got a D at GCSE German, but even my limited linguistic skills can translate 100 Years of the Berlin U-Bahn.  Clearly they're getting in early with their celebrations.

It also features some very nice blue and white tiles that the Bf and I agreed would look lovely in a bathroom.

Sophie-Charlotte-Platz U2

Above ground, Sophie-Charlotte-Platz is a very mediocre road junction.  It's not notable in any way.

Below ground, it's a time machine.

The station has been turned into a living history of the U-Bahn, with its original furnishings and equipment restored to their turn of the century best.  It's a bit like being in a German co-production of The House of Elliot.

On top of that, the station has been decorated with full size paintings showing the U-Bahn network in the period before the First World War.  The whole platform length is covered with them, and they're both distinctive and fascinating.  I took pics along the whole length, but sadly, it turns out they didn't all come out: they were a bit blurry and indistinct.  Probably because I wasn't comfortable standing close to the platform edge so I could fit them all in.  It's real shame because they were great pictures, and good insight into the history of the U-Bahn.  Some did work, though:

There was also an old map, which is always good to see:

The network's grown slightly since those days.

Savignyplatz S3 S5 S7 S75 

If Bismarkstraße is a hallucinogenic nightmare, Savignyplatz in a pure slice of darkness.  An S-bahn station overlooked by a high wall it's been decorated by a mural themed around "environmental destruction".

Yes, the screaming demented faces of tortured souls.  That'll set you up for a day at the office.

Wittenbergplatz U1 U2 U3

This is the one, the jewel of the U-Bahn: Wittenbergplatz.  It was opened as part of the very first U-Bahn line (which, confusingly, is the one now called the U2) and it was built with a major street presence.  Wittenbergplatz itself (the square) is in the centre of the city's shopping district, with the KaDeWe, Berlin's Selfridges, across the street.  At track level, it looks like nothing special:

Dig around a bit further though and you find a sneaky delight.  To commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the U-Bahn - and to symbolise the post-War peace - London Underground gave the city its very own roundel.

Lovely stuff.  You can imagine the "squee" noise I made when I saw it.

While London Underground went for a simple but solid look for its turn of the century stations, Berlin went in a different direction, and built a temple for Wittenbergplatz.

It was, sadly, heavily bombed during the war, but it's been restored beautifully, with further work going on in the 1980s to really bring it back up to its glory days.  Inside is all dark wood and ironwork, with subtle Art Nouveau touches.  High windows allow light to flow into a central ticket hall.

At the centre is a lovely iron clock.  There aren't enough clocks in train stations.  Big old fashioned round ones with hands.  It's all digital now, and usually the station owners rely on some small ticking numbers at the bottom of a "now and next indicator" to show the time.

Meanwhile, the lovely cream tiling around the roof has some great, intricate detailing, along with some globes on top of the columns.  It shows how keen the company was to make this station part of the luxurious district around it, so that its travellers really felt they'd arrived.

It's a shame that BVG have then spoiled it with their treatment of the old ticket booths.  As I've said before, all ticketing is now handled by machines, so the mahogany boxes have been turned over to retailers.  The fast food sellers have then covered the exterior of the booths with gaudy signage and backlit photos of chicken wings.  It's definitely not in keeping.  I understand the need for commercial activity, but couldn't they have insisted on a certain level of quality when it came to the signs and the retailers?

BVG have held on to one of the booths though, for a rarely seen information point.  Which was closed.

I shouldn't gripe; they're doing a great job.  Berlin is one of the great Metro cities, with a massive, well-tended network.  In just the few days I was there I saw a wonderful variety of architectural styles, artistic projects, and futures which made me sorry to leave - and itching to return.

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