This map shows how people used Berlin's U-Bahn in the 1920s

Bulowstrasse station in 1903 - one of the first stations to be built on Berlin's U-Bahn network. Image: Wikimedia Commons

From the saucily snarling chords of Cabaret to the dusky, smoke-filled backrooms of Christopher Isherwood’s novels, 1920s Berlin conjures up certain images in the collective consciousness. And no city could cultivate an image as distinctive as Berlin’s during this period without a solid public transport network.

Yep, you guessed it. We’re here to talk about trains.

First things first, a reasonably brief history of the Berlin U-Bahn.

This map shows it pretty well, but the gist of it is that a very small-scale, east-west network was built by about 1913, running primarily through Schöneberg, Charlottenburg, and Wilmersdorf, all pretty affluent areas as it was thought this would prove more profitable. This wasn’t an entirely underground network, though, and the earliest stretches of track were elevated.

Click to expand. The history of the U-Bahn. Image: Sansculotte.

The second phase of construction, through the 1910s and 1920s, saw the first north-south lines, as the city wanted to bring the benefits of the railway lines to the city’s poorer residents.

Lisa Charlotte Rost, a blogger and data nut (same) living in Berlin, spotted this historical map from 1927 at Uhlandstrasse U-Bahn station in Germany’s capital, and it’s pretty cool.

The caption, written in the beautiful phlegm that is the German language, translates as, roughly: “Strength/density of traffic on the over and underground railway lines in 1927 (numbers given in millions of passengers)”

Click to enlarge. Image: BVG via Lisa Charlotte Rost

The first thing to note is that the lines pictured on the map are rather different to today’s U-Bahn offering.

The stretch from Thielplatz to Nordring is today split between two lines: the U3, from Thielplatz to Nollendorfplatz, and the U2, from there to Nordring, which is today called Schönhauser Allee.

The branch of the same line from Wittenbergplatz to both Stadion and Wilhelmplatz is now split between the U2, which runs from Wittenbergplatz to Olympiastadion (as it is now known) and on further to Ruhleben, and one stop of the U7 from Bismarckstrasse to Richard-Wagner-Platz, which appears on the 1927 map as Wilhelmplatz.

The light green line on the map, from Uhlandstrasse and Hauptstrasse to Warschauer Strasse, is today primarily the U1, which runs from Uhlandstrasse to Warschauer Straße. The spur from Nollendorfplatz south to Hauptstrasse is today the short U4 line, on which many of the station names have changed. Viktoria-Louise Platz and Bayerischer Platz have stayed the same, but Stadtpark has become Rathaus Schöneberg and the terminus, Hauptstrasse, has become Innsbrucker Platz.

The final principal route that this old cartographic wonder shows runs from Seestrasse in the north to Bergstrasse in the south, with a short branch running off to Flughafen (as in, airport) too. Seestrasse is now about one-third of the way along the U6 line, which runs south to Mehringdamm, which on the 1927 map is called Belle-Alliance Strasse. From there, the current U6 continues along the path of the short spur line to Flughafen, where Kreuzberg station is today’s Platz der Luftbrücke and Flughafen – built to serve the old Berlin Tempelhof airport, now used as a recreational park which is today called Paradestrasse.

The main run of the dark green line on the 1927 map, however, meanders on via Hermannplatz and Rathaus Neukölln to its terminus at Bergstrasse, which is today called Karl-Marx-Strasse.

And finally there’s the little, little-used stretch from Kottbusser Tor south to Boddinstrasse, which is just a small chunk of today’s U8.

Berlin in 1932, five years after the passengers recorded on this map. Image: German Federal Archives.

So yes. Lots of differences.

As for the real content of the map, there are lots of very obvious things to say here.

All three main arteries are much busier in their central sections than at their edges fairly predictably.

Transfer stations such as Wittenbergplatz, Nollendorfplatz and Friedrichstadt all see slight reductions in the business of one line as passengers flip over to the other again, standard.


Branch lines of the same route combine to make the central sections busier in terms of passenger numbers: Belle-Alliance Strasse sees 26.1m and 5.6m journeys combine, with a few others who get on at Belle-Alliance Strasse, to make 33.8m journeys from there to Hallesches Tor. This is also obvious.

But you can also pick out two interesting tidbits that reveal the age of this map in an enjoyable way.

The line to Flughafen looks pretty unused, and there are two obvious reasons for this. One is that air travel was nothing like it is today. Deutsche Luft Hansa (as in Lufthansa, but there’s no legal connection) has only started in 1926, and the U-Bahn connection to Tempelhof airport was the first direct connection between a metro system and an airport in the world. Air travel for passenger use was still in its very early days, and was restricted to those who could afford it.

The other important fact here is that the station only opened on 10 September 1927. By that measure, having already seen 2.2m journeys isn’t actually bad work.

The other interesting point on the map is the Stadion station, which only had 600,000 journeys in 1927, according to the map.

There’s no excuse of youth, here: the Stadion U-Bahn station opened on 8 June, 1913, at the same time as the Deutsches Stadion on the site.

An IK-type train testing at Olympiastadion station. Image: Bahnsteigkante.

The whole site was finished in ample time for Berlin’s hosting of the 1916 Summer Olympic Games, but they were cancelled for the obvious and glaring reason of the First World War, and regular train service to the Stadion station did not start until 1922. The surrounding area at that time was hardly (nor is it today) a particularly packed residential area, so it’s understandable that use of the station was a little dwindling.

It was only when Berlin was awarded the 1936 Olympics that the area came back to life. German architect Werner March was originally contracted to restore the 1913 Deutsches Stadion, but when Adolf Hitler came into power and decided to use the games as propaganda, he commissioned March instead to built a totally new stadium.

In 1927, however, the 1936 games hadn’t even been awarded to any city (next up on the horizon were the 1928 games, in Amsterdam).

So there you have it. History, maps and trains, all at the same time. Dont say we never do anything for you.

Jack May is a regular contributor to CityMetric and tweets as @JackO_May.

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Barnet council has decided a name for its new mainline station. Exciting!

Artist's impression of the new Brent Cross. Image: Hammerson.

I’ve ranted before about the horror of naming stations after the lines that they’re served by (screw you, City Thameslink). So, keeping things in perspective as ever, I’ve been quietly dreading the opening of the proposed new station in north London which has been going by the name of Brent Cross Thameslink.

I’ve been cheered, then, by the news that station wouldn’t be called that at all, but will instead go by the much better name Brent Cross West. It’s hardly the cancellation of Brexit, I’ll grant, but in 2017 I’ll take my relief wherever I can find it.

Some background on this. When the Brent Cross shopping centre opened besides the A406 North Circular Road in 1976, it was only the third large shopping mall to arrive in Britain, and the first in London. (The Elephant & Castle one was earlier, but smaller.) Four decades later, though, it’s decidedly titchy compared to newer, shinier malls such as those thrown up by Westfield – so for some years now, its owners, Hammerson, have wanted to extend the place.

That, through the vagaries of the planning process, got folded into a much bigger regeneration scheme, known as Brent Cross Cricklewood (because, basically, it extends that far). A new bigger shopping centre will be connected, via a green bridge over the A406, to another site to the south. There you’ll find a whole new town centre, 200 more shops, four parks, 4m square feet of offices space and 7,500 homes.

This is all obviously tremendously exciting, if you’re into shops and homes and offices and not into depressing, car-based industrial wastelands, which is what the area largely consists of at the moment.

The Brent Cross site. Image: Google.

One element of the new development is the new station, which’ll sit between Hendon and Cricklewood on the Thameslink route. New stations are almost as exciting as new shops/homes/offices, so on balance I'm pro.

What I’ve not been pro is the name. For a long time, the proposed station has been colloquially referred to as Brent Cross Thameslink, which annoys me for two reasons:

1) Route names make rubbish modifiers because what if the route name changes? And:

2) It’s confusing, because it’s nearly a mile from Brent Cross tube station. West Hampstead Thameslink (euch), by contrast, is right next to West Hampstead tube.

Various other names have been proposed for the station. In one newsletter, it was Brent Cross Parkway; on Wikipedia, it’s currently Brent Cross South, apparently through confusion about the name of the new town centre development.

This week, though, Barnet council quietly confirmed it’d be Brent Cross West:

Whilst the marketing and branding of BXS needs to be developed further, all parties agree that the station name should build upon the Brent Cross identity already established. Given the station is located to the west of Brent Cross, it is considered that the station should be named Brent Cross West. Network Rail have confirmed that this name is acceptable for operational purposes. Consequently, the Committee is asked to approve that the new station be named Brent Cross West.

Where the new station will appear on the map, marked by a silly red arrow. Image: TfL.

That will introduce another irritating anomaly to the map, giving the impression that the existing Brent Cross station is somehow more central than the new one, when in fact they’re either side of the development. And so:

Consideration has also been given as to whether to pursue a name change for the tube station from “Brent Cross” to “Brent Cross East”.

Which would sort of make sense, wouldn’t it? But alas:

However owing to the very high cost of changing maps and signage London-wide this is not currently being pursued.

This is probably for the best. Only a handful of tube stations have been renamed since 1950: the last was Shepherd’s Bush Market, which was until 2008 was simply Shepherd's Bush, despite being quite a long way from the Shepherd's Bush station on the Central line. That, to me, suggests that one of the two Bethnal Green stations might be a more plausible candidate for an early rename.


At any rate: it seems unlikely that TfL will be renaming its Brent Cross station to encourage more people to use the new national rail one any time soon. But at least it won’t be Brent Cross Thameslink.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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