The Maze: A throwback to five years of Berlin’s new main railway station

Introduction to the Maze

Berlin never had a real main railway station. As with many old rail networks most stations terminated and did not connect through the city. Travelers had to move through the streets to get from one station to another. Eventually the state built a connection from West to East. After the partition of Berlin each part developed its own main station. Berlin Zoologischer Garten in the West and Berlin Ostbahnhof (later Hauptbahnhof) in the East. Finally in 2006 the new main station offering connections in all directions was inaugurated. It was a contentious construction with much of the land around still undeveloped the station itself badly connected from the north and south by public transport. Today the land around is mostly build up or under active development. A tram line has been connected and soon a subway line was well. Nevertheless the station is still a terrible behemoth made out of glass and concrete. It is loud, dark, dirty and convoluted. It can take up to 10 minutes to transfer from the upper to the lower tracks and vice versa. It is not beautiful or inviting by any stretch of the imagination. But it is an architectural marvel and mecca for photographers. The following images are from the 5th anniversary in 2011.


train at berlin main station
6400KW (2011) Olympus PEN E-P1 + M.Zuiko 14-42mm 15mm@F3.6

This new locomotive was introduced for the regional trains in this area. From the signs I learned that this model can generate up to 6400KW of power and accelerate up to 230 km/h. The exhibit drew mostly older men with cameras. It is a peculiarly male hobby. I later learned that the German state railway bought too many of these locomotives for freight duties which were often performed by private companies for less money. So they replaced some older locomotives on the local regional services. This machine is way too powerful and expensive for regional trains but better than just sitting around idle I guess. Local track conditions at the time usually allowed speeds up to 120-140 km/h.


Passengers disembarking a high speed train
Welcome (2011) Olympus PEN E-P1 + M.Zuiko 17mm@F2.8

A white high speed train (called InterCity Express) is disgorging a few passengers. Welcome to Berlin. Welcome to the dirt, the poverty, the dysfunction, the suffering but also the joy, the food, the arts, the weird people and the possibilities. Be careful and have fun.

White Snakes

German high speed train ICE
White Snakes (2011) Olympus PEN E-P1 + M.Zuiko 17mm@F2.8

There is so much to see here. Trains, people getting in and out, walking about and getting a burger. And everything is full of snakes, white ones, red ones and grey ones falling from the sky.

A Maze

Berlin Main Station inside
A maze (2011) Olympus PEN E-P1 + M.Zuiko 17mm@F2.8

Look at this beautiful maze. It is confusing as hell. I used to watch people stumble around not knowing where to go. The big elevators go to every floor but to reach some tracks you need to get off one floor above and use another one. The staircases do not connect all levels at once and you have to walk half circles around the escalators depending on where you want to go. Amazing. Whoever designed this never really thought about pedestrian traffic flow. Or maybe they thought about maximizing the time spent walking in front of shop windows. Who knows.

Photographic Notes

I took all the images with the then new Olympus PEN E-P1. The built in image stabilizer really helped with taking these handheld shots. Still the sensors really struggled with noise at ISO 800 and above. You can see it in the first two shots. I converted all images to black and white to mitigate the ugly color noise. This small camera was ideal for taking shots in the busy station without attracting too much attention. No one cares about the guys shooting trains but scenes like the second and last image are somewhat tricky. I had people actually looking up while leaving the train. Don’t want them to stumble with their luggage don’t we 🙂

You can find some shots from the construction period and area around the station here and here.

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