Little remains of what was once one of the grandest train stations in Europe, except a graffiti covered portal entrance battered by time and the ravages of war. Now flanked by a large sports field that covers much of the footprint of the original railway terminus, this ruined facade previously led to the waiting rooms of the Anhalter Bahnhof and sits some 600 metres away from bustling the square of Potsdamer Platz.
Built on the site of a previous city gate (the Anhalter Tor) in Berlin’s tax and excise wall facing nearby Askanischer Platz, Anhalter Bahnhof would enter into existence as a modestly-sized structure before growing to become not only the largest train station in Germany; but also the largest train station in continental Europe. A fixture in Berlin’s urban landscape akin to King’s Cross station in London, or Gare du Nord in Paris that would serve as the arrival and departure point for international trains – in particular as the ‘Gateway to the South’ with services to places as far away as Rome, Naples and Athens.
Opened in 1880, by both Kaiser Wilhelm I and Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, this lavish and spacious terminus would actually cater for four different classes of ticket holders – with a separate entrance for royal and diplomatic visitors. At the peak of its use in the 1930s, trains left the six platforms at Anhalter Bahnhof every three to five minutes. Carrying an average of 44,000 people daily – around 16 million a year – compared to the 49,000 people who would travel each year from Berlin’s Tempelhof Airport.
The adjacent goods yard and station would see use by industrialists looking to gain a foothold in the German capital and locate their headquarters near the Prussian and German government offices of nearby Wilhelmstrasse.
As the premier station in Berlin, Anhalter Bahnhof was also connected directly to the Hotel Excelsior – the largest hotel in Europe – via a 100 metre long underground tunnel that from 1929 allowed guests exclusive access to the station, avoiding the hustle and bustle of overground street traffic. And also guaranteeing the highest class of luxury train travel at the time; as it was possible for all guests at the hotels to purchase their tickets from the concierge and arrange for their luggage to be transported directly to their carriage before even stepping foot in the station.
The darkest chapter in the station’s existence came following the Nazi takeover in 1933, when from 1941 Hitler’s regime began shipping Berlin’s Jewish citizens to their deaths – with many sent from Anhalter Bahnhof to the Theresienstadt Concentration Camp in Czechoslovakia. Around 9,600 individuals would be deported from here, in groups of 50 to 100 at a time, in 116 trains – with ordinary passenger wagons rather than freight cars utilised, and simply coupled up to regular trains departing according to the normal timetable.
According to the plans drawn up by Adolf Hitler and his court architect, Albert Speer, for the post-war redevelopment of the German capital, Anhalter Bahnhof was set to be demolished with all rail traffic rerouted to two stations outside the city. The land was instead earmarked for the construction of a swimming pool.
The Anglo-American air raids on Berlin during the Second World War devastated the Nazi capital and Anhalter Bahnhof was not spared. On the night of November 23rd 1943, a large Royal Air Force raid caused serious damage to the station, so much so that long-distance train services would grind to a halt. Further attacks on February 3rd and February 27th 1945 left the terminus completely out of action.
Following the Battle of Berlin and division and occupation of the city by the Allied Forces, the train station ended up in West Berlin – and the American sector of control. Something that would prove problematic for the Soviet authorities, as all trains passing through their zone of Germany would arrive at this partially restored station. Until traffic was eventually re-routed to the Ostbahnhof station in 1952.
What remained of the station was then left derelict for another 8 years, until it was largely demolished in 1960 – with the recognisable portico left as a solitary trace of the former station’s glory. A pair of statues – Day and Night – that previously decorated the front of the station are now on display in the German Technical Museum, as they were judged too fragile to remain on the facade when the West Berlin senate voted to demolish the remains of the station in 1959.
Walking through the ruins of Anhalter Bahnhof today, it is hard to imagine what this station once was. Not only one of the largest train terminals in the world but also the first – and last – impression than many people would have when arriving in and departing from Berlin.
Like a handful of other sites in the city – such as the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtnis Kirche – it also stands as a testament to human folly and the abomination of war. A scar on the landscape, where a great example of the fruits of human endeavour once stood. But as proof that tyranny must be fought. That in bombing this station in 1943, the British air force may have, at least inadvertedly, managed to derail the Nazi deportation efforts from this particular location and disrupt the official Nazi timetable. The diplomatic traffic had to be re-routed. When Adolf Hitler’s personal train arrived in Berlin for the last time in January 1945, it was not to the destroyed Anhalter Bahnhof, but far away in the Grünewald instead.
The 1,000 year Reich that Hitler dreamed of fortunately never materialised. And the swimming pool that the Führer intended to build here eventually is now an astro turfed sports field.
A new museum is now scheduled to be constructed behind the ruin of Anhalter Bahnhof, detailing the lives of the many people condemned to exile by the Nazi takeover, who would have bid farewell to the city from this former station. The Exile Museum aims to open in 2025 and juxtapose the narratives of famous German emigrants, such as Thomas Mann and Albert Einstein, against the further 50,000 known individuals who fled the Nazi regime and have largely remain nameless.
Walk Through The Brandenburg Gate | Explore The State Museums On Museum Island | Visit The TV Tower – Fernsehturm | Cross the Cold War Border At Checkpoint Charlie |
Visit The Site Of Adolf Hitler’s Führerbunker | Explore The Topography Of Terror | Visit The Reichstag Cupola At Night | Explore The Forum Fridericianum |
Ride The Fastest Elevator In Europe | Journey Into The Memorial To The Murdered Jews Of Europe | Step Inside The Neue Wache |
Explore The Former Jewish Quarter – Spandauer Vorstadt | Explore Bernauer Strasse – Visit The Berlin Wall | Visit The Soviet War Memorial In Treptower Park |
Walk Across The Bridge Of Spies
Enter The Palace Of Tears – The Tränenpalast | Step Inside The Olympic Stadium | Explore Erich Mielke’s Office At The Stasi Museum |
Walk Along Karl Marx Allee | Visit The Oldest Church In Berlin – The Nikolaikirche | Visit The Grave Of Frederick The Great | Walk Through The Ruins Of Anhalter Bahnhof |
Stand On The Platz Des Volksaufstandes | Visit The German Resistance Museum | Visit The Soviet War Memorial In The Tiergarten | See The Georg Elser Memorial On Wilhelmstrasse |
Step Inside The Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtnis Kirche | Visit The Gleis 17 Memorial | Visit The Schloss Charlottenburg Mausoleum | Explore The Interbau – IBA 57 |
Visit Cecilienhof – The Site Of The Potsdam Conference
Visit The Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp Memorial | Visit The Socialist Cemetery – Zentralfriedhof Friedrichsfelde | Visit The Seelow Heights Memorial |
Explore The Allied Museum In Dahlem | Visit The Ravensbrück Concentration Camp Memorial | Visit The Commonwealth War Cemetery |
Visit The Site Of The German Surrender In 1945 – Karlshorst | Cross The Bösebrücke At Night | Visit The Brandenburg T4 Euthanasia Memorial