Berlin prepares to inaugurate new railway station

22nd May 2006, Comments 0 comments

22 May 2006, BERLIN - At the point where suburban trains once crossed from one world to another, the final touches are being applied to the German capital's glossy new main-line railway station near the Reichstag.

22 May 2006

BERLIN - At the point where suburban trains once crossed from one world to another, the final touches are being applied to the German capital's glossy new main-line railway station near the Reichstag.

Workers, high above ground, ropes attached to their bodies, have been seen in recent weeks busily polishing the station's cathedral- like glass-paned roof.

The vast transparent steel-and-glass "Hauptstadt Bahnhof" (Main Railway Station), built on the site of the old Lehrter Station, will be inaugurated in a glitzy ceremony on Friday, May 26.

It marks yet another dynamic phase in the "reincarnation" of the city following its jubilant 1989-90 reunification.

Besides the showpiece station itself, a vast amount of money also gets invested by the German railway (Deutsche Bahn) in other projects in and around Berlin and on new high-speed stretches of track between Berlin and Hamburg, Hanover, Halle and Leipzig.

All told the total Deutsche Bahn investment amounts to between seven and eight billion euro (nine to ten billion dollars), with the new city mainline station itself costing an estimated 700 to 800 million euro.

Not content with being a political capital, Berlin is destined to become a transport capital too. The two great European rail routes - from Paris to Moscow, and from Stockholm to Vienna - will cross precisely here at the pristine new 21st century station.

The Hauptstadt station eclipses all the other Berlin stations, with its near 400-metre-long glass concourse and 59 escalators and 37 lifts.

The north-south line running underneath it passes through a tunnel nearly two miles long - less than a mile's distance from Germany's new government quarter.

The station site itself represents a weird chapter in Berlin's post-war history. Before the communist-built Berlin Wall was pulled down, the Lehrter Bahnhof was the last "western" station travellers saw before trains entered the communist "east" of the city.

S-Bahn trains rumbled across the Spree bridge along a curving viaduct before arriving at the Friedrichstrasse station in then "East Berlin." Western visitors would often gape in amazement at armed guards posted high up among the station girders.

It was within the precincts of the old Lehrter station where the body of Martin Bormann, one of Hitler's top aides during World War II, was discovered in the early 1970s by Berlin investigators, after earlier false British reports had him alive and hiding in Latin America.

The Berlin authorities maintained the remains of Bormann's body were identified through his dental records. Bormann, they concluded, had probably been shot by Russian troops while seeking to break out from Hitler's nearby bunker in early 1945.

The new Hauptstadt Station, close to the Chancellery building and within sight of the Reichstag's glass cupola, looks certain to prove a magnet for tourists in Berlin for the World Cup this summer.

The German Railway predicts that as many as 300,000 passengers a day will be using the station, with 1,500 local, national and international trains arriving and departing daily.

But controversy has surrounded the station's construction.

Meinhard von Gerkan, one of Germany's top architects, who with his partners was also responsible for designing the new 'see-through' roof at the Berlin Olympic Stadium, was furious when railway bosses decided the length of the station roof spanning the east-west tracks must be reduced by a quarter - to 1,050 feet - in a bid to cut costs.

Gerkan said their action had reduced the station to a "torso."

Further recrimination followed when builders made changes to the design of the underground hall, where north-south trains will stop. Gerkan's plan was for the ceiling to arch and undulate over the platform's tracks. Instead, the Deutsche Bahn settled for a flat, grey metal ceiling.

This left the huge hallway looking like a supermarket, claimed Gerkan. "This is pure disfigurement," he raged. A court has now to decide if the ceiling should be changed back to the original design.

Such bickering aside, the Hauptstadt Station seems destined to become strategically the most important station in Europe in the next decade, offering fast speed links to Prague and Warsaw, Stockholm and Paris, and to other new EU member countries.

Such countries, experts predict, will be increasingly looking to Germany and Scandinavia for new markets, tourists and investment in the coming years.

At the Deutsche Bahn headquarters on the Potsdamer Platz, Hartmut Mehdorn, the German rail chief, expresses satisfaction at Berlin's new mainline station. "I'm delighted. Berlin can be proud of this station. I'm sure it will be the envy of many cities."


Subject: German news

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