LOCAL RECREATION INSTEAD OF LOCAL TRANSPORT

Unfall Gleisdreieck 1908
The fall and rise of Gleisdreieck

Throughout the past 100 years, Berlin’s Gleisdreieck (triangular rail junction) provided urban mobility, made city history and inspired movies. However, the historical grounds became the people’s favourite only two years ago – as one of the most beautiful parks in the capital. What a shocking scene: after the collision of two trains, a U-Bahn carriage weighing 17 tons has fallen off of a viaduct and now lies wrecked on the ground, with a second one still dangling sideways over the railing. Injured passengers are stuck in debris, crying out for help. Firemen, risking their lives, are attempting to secure the suspended carriage with an audacious construction of ropes to prevent it, too, from plummeting. On 26th September 1908, 18 people die, 20 are injured. What follows after the accident: the site of the tragedy, Berlin’s Gleisdreieck, the junction of three elevated railway branches, is completely redeveloped.

REDEVELOPING GLEISDREIECK

What had been the crossing point of three elevated railway branches coming in from Ernst-Reuter-Platz (known as “Bahnhof Knie” (“Knee Station”) until 1953), Potsdamer Platz and Warschauer Brücke at Gleisdreieck up to this point was reengineered in 1912, in order to prevent further collisions and the risk of falling. Instead, the Berlin Hochbahngesellschaft (Electric Elevated and Underground Railways Company) began the construction of a station, which trains would enter on two different levels. First, the lower train platform was completed, then the upper level started operation. Final works were completed in August 1913. Gleisdreieck as a rail construction had ceased to exist as such; it is the name only that remains to this day.
The tragedy, which gave the station its current shape, faded from memory and became a side note in the city history of Berlin. But as soon as 1937, Gleisdreieck was on everyone’s lips once again: Director Robert A. Stemmle shot his crime movie with the same title there, which, to this day, remains a fascinating study of the Berlin U-Bahn milieu.

A PARK DEVELOPS

Gleisdreieck the station was not what won the Berliners’ hearts, however. Beyond the train platforms in the North, where an undeveloped area spanning 17 hectares was dominated by uncontrolled growth for 40 years, a park was opened, initially in the Eastern section on September 2nd. It was only due to active citizen involvement that all players were able to agree on a combination of untouched and groomed cultivated landscapes – a challenge, which landscapers mastered outstandingly. Walkers, bikers, skaters, joggers and picnickers feel equally at home here today. With its lavish meadows, the diverse area at Gleisdreieck provides an unusually broad perspective to the urbanites. Its shaded groves constitute unique recreational areas in the middle of Berlin. There between lie countless old rails, remains of signal boxes and rail pits.

Gleisdreieck Westpark
The new Western park with a view of Potsdamer Platz

Earlier than had been planned, more specifically on 31st May 2013, the Western section was opened in a next step and has been connecting the park to Potsdamer Platz ever since. The green area, comprising nine hectares, features a children’s playground, a sun deck, a café and a sports area with a trampoline, a goal wall and beach volleyball courts. Northwards, the visitors have a spectacular view over the skyline of Potsdamer Platz. Similar to the urban quarter of the Platz, the park at Gleisdreieck, too, is part of the consistent cultivation of empty spaces of historical importance to the city and transport that are thus being returned to the citizens slowly but surely. The new centre of Berlin has grown further – and greener.

Text: Bernd Ratmeyer
Photo 1: n/s, copyright: Landesarchiv Berlin K00834
Photo 2 & header: Lichtschwärmer / Christo Libuda