Home > Uncategorized > Make-Believe: Notes on the Berlin S-Bahn

Make-Believe: Notes on the Berlin S-Bahn

The Berlin S-Bahn shrieks and howls when it whips around curves and brakes before a station. Many passengers covered their ears, deafened by the shrill voices of the wheels on metal tracks. But I didn’t want to miss a single note. I had wandered into Nordbahnhof, a former border station, barricaded and heavily guarded during Berlin’s division. There was a fascinating display inside that explained how the Berlin Wall extended below the earth’s surface, cutting off S-Bahn lines-potential escape routes-that ran from East to West. I read about the “ghost stations” of Potsdammer Platz and the Brandenburg Gate, which West Berliners could pass through, but not get off. Trains would slow just enough to make out blurry faces of the GDR police guarding the platform before the train would whisk passengers back into the darkness.

Excited by these descriptions, I immediately boarded the S1 to Potsdammer Platz. I wanted to relive this strange experience, or at least pretend to. So I sat on the train, surrounded by ordinary passengers who cringed at the noise of the brakes, talked, and laughed. But I was in a completely different world, imagining the silence that must have gripped passengers on this eerie passage 20 years ago, and debating with myself whether or not to get off at Potsdammer Platz, or ride the whole way under East Berlin, trapped underground. My heart beat faster as the train slowed at the station and I imagined the people waiting to board were guards with guns and grim expressions. The train howled as if to exorcise the ghosts of its past and the doors flew open with a blast of cool air when it finally stopped. As people poured on and off the train, I suddenly stood up and got off, breaking the spell.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Rick Mullin
    August 9, 2010 at 11:42 am

    Kate, Thanks for so many great stories, descriptions, and photos. You had a wonderful trip. We’ve really enjoyed following along with you. Look forward to your paper next spring. Regards, Rick Mullin

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