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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What’s up with Wakanda’s trains? On public transport in Black Panther

The Black Panther promotional poster. Image: Marvel/Disney.

Black Panther is one of the best reviewed superhero films of all time. It’s instantly become a cultural touchstone for black representation in movies, while shining a positive light on a continent almost totally ignored by Hollywood. But never mind all that – what about the trains?

The film takes place in the fictional African country of Wakanda, a small, technologically advanced nation whose power comes from its main natural resource: huge supplies of a magical metal called vibranium. As is often the case in sci-fi, “technologically advanced” here means “full of skyscrapers and trains”. In other words, perfect Citymetric territory.

Here’s a mostly spoiler-free guide to Black Panther’s urbanism and transport.

City planning

It’s to the credit of Black Panther’s crew that there’s anything to talk about here at all. Fictional cities in previous Marvel films, such as Asgard from the Thor films or Xandar from Guardians of the Galaxy, don’t feel like real places at all, but collections of random monuments joined together by unwalkably-wide and sterile open spaces.

Wakanda’s capital, the Golden City, seems to have distinct districts and suburbs with a variety of traditional and modern styles, arranged roughly how you’d expect a capital to be – skyscrapers in the centre, high-rise apartments around it, and what look like industrial buildings on its waterfront. In other words, it’s a believable city.

It’s almost a real city. Image: Marvel/Disney

We only really see one area close-up: Steptown, which according to designer Ruth Carter is the city’s hipster district. How the Golden City ended up with a bohemian area is never explained. In many cities, these formed where immigrants, artists and students arrived to take advantage of lower rents, but this seems unlikely with Wakanda’s stable economy and zero migration. Did the Golden City gentrify?

Urban transport

When we get out and about, things get a bit weirder. The narrow pedestrianised sand-paved street is crowded and lined with market stalls on both sides, yet a futuristic tram runs right down the middle. The tram’s resemblance to the chunky San Francisco BART trains is not a coincidence – director Ryan Coogler is from Oakland.

Steptown Streetcar, with a hyperloop train passing overhead. Image: Marvel/Disney.

People have to dodge around the tram, and the street is far too narrow for a second tram to pass the other way. This could be a single-track shuttle (like the former Southport Pier Tram), a one-way loop (like the Detroit People Mover) or a diversion through narrow streets (like the Dublin Luas Cross City extension). But no matter what, it’s a slow and inefficient way to get people around a major city. Hopefully there’s an underground station lurking somewhere out of shot.


Over the street runs a *shudder* hyperloop. If you’re concerned that Elon Musk’s scheme has made its way to Wakanda, don’t worry – this train bears no resemblance to Musk’s design. Rather, it’s a flying train that levitates between hoops in the open air. It travels very fast – too fast for urban transport, since it crosses a whole neighbourhood in a couple of seconds – and it doesn’t seem to have many stops, even at logical interchange points where the lines cross. Its main purpose is probably to bring people from outlying suburbs into the centre quickly.

There’s one other urban transport system seen in the film: as befitting a major riverside city, it has a ferry or waterbus system. We get a good look at the barges carrying tribal leaders to the ceremonial waterfalls, but overhead shots show other boats on the more mundane business of shuttling people up and down the river.

Transport outside the city

Unfortunately there’s less to say here. Away from the city, we only see people riding horses, following cattle-drawn sleds, or simply walking long distances. This is understandable given Wakanda’s masquerading as a developing country, but it makes the country very urban centric. Perhaps that’s why the Jabari hate the other tribes so much – poor transport investment means the only way to reach them is a narrow, winding mountain pass.

The one exception is in freight transport. Wakanda has a ridiculously developed maglev network for transporting vibranium ore. This actually follows a pattern seen in a lot of real African countries: take a look at a map of the continent and you’ll see most railways run to the coast.

Image: Bucksy/Wikimedia Commons.

These are primarily freight railways built to transport resources from mines and plantations to ports, with passenger transport an afterthought.

A high-speed maglev seems like overkill for carrying ore, especially as the film goes out of its way to point out that vibranium is too unstable to take on high-speed trains without careful safety precautions. Nevertheless, the scene where Shuri and Ross geek out about these maglevs might just be the single most relatable in any Marvel movie.

A very extravagant freight line. Image: Marvel/Disney.

Perhaps this all makes sense though. Wakanda is still an absolute monarchy, and without democratic input its king is naturally going to choose exciting hyperloop and maglev projects over boring local and regional transport links.

Here’s hoping the next Black Panther film sees T’Challa reforming Wakanda’s government, and then getting really stuck into double-track improvements to the Steptown Streetcar.

Stephen Jorgenson-Murray tweets as @stejormur.

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