Why the Berlin U-Bahn’s newest trains will actually be the oldest subway trains in Europe

Some U-Bahn D-stock when it was last rolled out, as a museum piece for the subway's 75th anniversary. Image: Wikimedia Commons/Jcornelius

Berlin’s newest trains are also going to be its oldest trains: the subway is currently so short of rolling stock it’s bringing back 3 of the “Doras”, the first of its trains built after World War 2, complete with vintage adverts.

Ironically they’re coming back into service on Berlin’s newest bit of subway, the U55, which was initially planned to provide a transport link for the then newly Berlin-based German government with the rest of the city after unification became a thing in the early 1990s. The U55 line was plagued with a number of delays - for many years no-one wanted to pay for it, then once they did it flooded - but was finally opened in 2009 as a mile-long stub of a line that’s not properly connected to anything else: London readers can basically think of it as Berlin’s Waterloo and City line.

There is a plan to make it a bit more useful by extending it and connecting it up to the U5 (which was always the plan, before they ran out of money the first time around), but until then Berlin isn’t wasting any fancy new trains on it, so they’re making a feature of running some of the network’s oldest stock - the D series, originally introduced in 1957. The trains, which will be refurbished up to modern standards, are among the last of their kind still kept in Germany - most of them were flogged off to North Korea in the 1990s. When the link with the U5 is completed, in 2020, the last Doras will finally be allowed to rest.

This will make the nearly 60-year-old trains among the oldest to run on any European subway service - beating the 1960s trains that ran on the London Underground’s Metropolitan Line until 2012 (the last tube trains to have luggage racks and umbrella hooks!). They’ll still be some distance short of the world record holder - Buenos Aires’s 100-year-old La Brugeoise rolling stock, which was finally retired in 2013.

The record in Europe is the original Glasgow Subway stock, which lasted from the opening of the system in 1896 until 1977, although the ex-London Underground stock living out its “gentle retirement” on the Isle of Wight’s railways is getting close, if you count subway trains that aren't really subway trains anymore.



This app connects strangers in two cities across the world. But can it tackle urban loneliness?

New Delhi, in India, where many of Duet-App's users come from. Image: Ville Miettinen

“You can be lonely anywhere, but there is a particular flavour to the loneliness that comes from living in a city, surrounded by millions of people”. Olivia Laing, The Lonely City

Our relationship to where we live and the spaces we inhabit define who we are and how we feel. But how often do we articulate the emotional impact of this relationship, whether this be loneliness, frustration or even civic pride?

“When I moved to a new city, started living alone, wanted to drink less, stay indoors more, and when I realised that I cannot make any more best friends.”

A new social network, a simple app that connects two individuals from the UK and India, aims to counter some of these issues.  Over the course of a year connected pairs receive one question a day through the app and their responses are exchanged with each other. A simple interaction that gradually builds a series of one-on-one relationships and invites users to imagine, over time, the other person living their life.

Distant geographies are an implicit part of the experience, therefore many of the questions nudge users to explore correlations between their physical and emotional landscapes. The data shows us that many of the Duet-App users are located in populous urban cities like Delhi, Bangalore, Manchester, Leeds and London, places that can just as often discourage feelings of belonging and place-making as much as they foster them.

“I had thought I'd never be able to live here again. but here I am living again at home after almost a decade living elsewhere. Living in Mumbai is a contact sport, and I can't do without it's chaos and infectious energy.”

Mumbai, India. Image: Deepak Gupta

In general cities are getting bigger and spreading wider at the same time as our communications are increasingly being conducted online and via digital gateways.

There is a sense that much of our online personas project an idealised version of ourselves; we increasingly document and express our daily lives through a filter and we are not always comfortable with a spontaneous expression of ourselves. Duet-App seeks to foster alternative digital relationships that through their anonymity allow us to be more honest and free.

“I feel a lot of people assume that I always have a lot going on for me and everything's always happy and amazing. I wish they could appreciate... how much of my own anxiety I swim in every single day. I appear and behave “normal” on the outside, calm and composed but there are always storms going on in my head.”

In exploring the responses to the questions so far, those that often garner the most replies relate directly to how we feel about our personal position in the world around us. Often these questions act as provocations not only to share responses but to reflect and articulate our thoughts around how we feel about what we are doing in the here and now.

Manchester, another popular city for Duet-App users. Image: Julius 

“Sometimes I feel sad about it [getting old] because I saw how easy it would be to feel lonely, and the fact that the world is set up for able-bodied young people is a bit of a travesty.”

Although many social media platforms allow for distant engagement and access into the lives of others we are in the main still curating and choosing our friendship circles. Through Duet-App this is randomised (and anonymised) with the intention of bypassing the traditional mechanics of how we broker online relationships. While directly exploring the digital space as a place for intimacy.

“Where do you go for peace?

“Well the internet, really. I do some mindless browsing, peek into the fandoms, listen to a few songs. Calms me down.”

Snapshots into the lives of someone existing and playing out their lives remotely can highlight shared concerns that break down preconceptions of how life is lived by others. Prompted by the reflections of a stranger exposed to our lives, digital relationships can encourage us to address the physical space we inhabit and the effects that the cities we live out our lives in have on our own well being. 

Catherine Baxendale is director of Invisible Flock.

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