Last Stop, Berlin Central Station: Reuniting Germany’s New Old Capitol

reformkompassIt was December 16, 1999 when Hartmut Mehdorn finally assumed the role of CEO at Deutsche Bahn, Germany’s privatized railway operator. Mehdorn, who previously headed several major industrial companies in his fast-paced career, had already been proposed by the Deutsche Bahn management when Heinz Duerr’s era ended in 1997.

His management style was perceived as too radical, however, and this recommendation was refused by the German government, which, maintains the power to appoint the company’s leadership, despite its status as a completely private, legal entity. Nevertheless, after two unsuccessful years with Johannes Ludewig as CEO, Mehdorn was eventually appointed as the new head of Deutsche Bahn.

Soon after the reunification of Germany in 1990, infrastructure was identified as a key element to fully reunite the two separated regions of the country. Berlin, which was to be reestablished as the capitol, constituted a special case. The city had been artificially cut in two by the Berlin wall, leaving each part with its own urban infrastructure system. According to German Basic Law, it is the state’s obligation to develop and maintain the railway infrastructure. To do this, the Federal Infrastructure Plan of 1992 was implemented by the German government the following year. The plan envisaged a new railway system for Berlin, with a prominent central station on the city’s Spree river adjacent to the administrative center and became known as the “mushroom” concept, a reference to its shape. The existing East-West connection would be complemented by a North-South connection, through the construction of a tunnel which runs under the city’s center. Seven long-distance railway stations, amongst others the so-called Station Zoo, which had long been the most popular station in Berlin, were incorporated into the concept to allow travelers to reach all of the city’s many districts easily. This was regarded as one of the crucial criteria for the new concept, as Berlin was unique in its decentralized structure and required a railway concept that considered this fact. Six of these stations would undergo major renovations, while the seventh, the old Lehrter Bahnhof (Lehrter Station), which was at the place where the two cross-cutting connections were to meet, would be replaced by a new central station. This new station constituted the final part of the city’s new railway system and was of high representative importance to the emerging capitol, as well as to Deutsche Bahn.

Together with the Berlin Senate, Deutsche Bahn initiated an architecture competition for the new central station. Following a contest with only two applicants, the Hamburg-based architecture firm Gerkan, Marg & Partners, GMP, won on May 26, 1993 with its futuristic design. Along with Duerr’s vision of a ‘Renaissance of the railway station’, Gerkan saw railway stations not solely as transportation spaces’ but rather as ‘living spaces’: “The station, with its democratic open structure, its public spaces inside and out, and its corridors of movement etched upon the face of the city, represents an important civilizing element.” Construction of the station began in early 1997, with the intention to open it to the public within five years.

On July 9, 1997, site preparation was proceeding as planned, when high ground-water levels caused major flooding of several large excavations. This unexpected incident not only forced the constructers of the station itself to review their plans, but also affected the work of those working on the tunnel connecting the new station directly to the city’s southern railways. While the station’s designers were hoping to be ready to start construction of the tunnel’s northern entrance with a delay of no more than eight weeks, their estimate was to prove far too optimistic. Further circumstances, such as the danger of a lowering of the foundation soil, or the prohibition to lower the groundwater level artificially, as it was likely to damage the surrounding historic sites and government buildings, required expensive building techniques. This problem was eventually solved by using an extremely expensive soil freezing technique, stabilizing the surrounding area and stopping water from pushing into the construction site. Despite the continuing hold on construction, the foundation stone was laid on September 10, 1998. Germany’s then-Minister of Transportation Matthias Wissmann praised the site as “Europe’s largest train station project,” and Berlin’s sitting mayor Eberhard Dippgen was no less enthusiastic: “The new Lehrter Bahnhof will take up operations in May 2003. From then on Europe’s north-south and east-west railway connections will cross at thi place.” However, in addition to the other problems, the architectural plans needed to be reviewed due to soil conditions endangering the stability of the underground parking lot and other important parts of the new station. Each of these changes needed to be reviewed and confirmed by the Federal Railway Office, a time-consuming process. It was not until August 1999that work resumed on the original plans.


Forschungs-Fallstudie_Grosse_Steuerreform_Manuel_FroehlichDr. Philipp S. Müller



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Müller, Philipp S. (2015): Last Stop, Berlin Central Station. Published in: Available online:


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Last Stop, Berlin Central Station: Reuniting Germany’s New Old Capitol by Dr. Philipp S. Müller. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International

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