by Heather Dunbar
Berlin’s Hauptbahnhof is Europe’s busiest station . Not only is this true in terms of its constant flow of inbound and outbound long-distance, regional, S-Bahn and U-Bahn-trains, but also in terms of the people who flock there for travel, work and leisure. Its collection of service stores and shops for consumer goods make it a destination for foreigners and locals alike. The presence of these stores means that the ill-prepared Berliner has a place to acquire provisions on a Sunday. In this way, Berlin Hauptbahnhof successfully serves the local and international communities.
Completed in 2006 by the architects Meinhard von Gerkan and Jurgen Hillmer of GMP – von Gerkan, Marg und Partner – Berlin Hauptbahnhof takes up an area of 175,000 square meters and sees approximately 30 million visitors pass through on a yearly basis . The station, which has been dubbed a “Cathedral of Glass”, is comprised of a hall which stretches 321 meters to cover the station’s tracks running east and west. It is intersected by two 12-story glass blocks that serve as office spaces .
I first encountered the Hauptbahnhof by accident (my preferred method of discovery) as I strolled around the Reichstag and proceeded along the Spree. I was immediately taken aback not only by the immensity of the structure, but its completely glass composition. Though glass is the material of choice for structures in my own city of origin, I had never before seen so much of it used in any structure in Berlin. For this reason, the building stands out from its architectural and natural surroundings, and complements rather than clashes with them. In fact, I find that the uniform glass surface gives the structure the overall appearance of water, potentially a nod to the River Spree which flows past it.
The interior of the station is open and cavernous. Entering from the south entrance, the overall view of the rest of the station is somewhat restricted due to the escalators rising directly ahead to the next level in a manner that cuts into the viewer’s line of sight. Despite this, however, the high roof makes all who have entered feel small. It is only after moving forward and around these obstructions that one can truly grasp the sheer size of the structure. Here, one is able to look both up to the curved glass roof and down into the depths of the subterranean portion of the station. The glass construction not only contributes to the overall aesthetic of the building, but it allows natural light to reach even these lower platforms.
As the duration of my stay in Berlin progressed, I was able to experience the Hauptbahnhof as a traveller, in addition to my previous experience as a local stocking up with supplies on a Sunday. Functionally speaking, the station is easy to navigate and connections are swiftly made. When ascending the escalators to the main platforms,the glass which surround you, as well as the sheer size of the hall, increases the feeling of insignificance. This can be overwhelming, particularly if it is dark outside as the glass lets the dark in at night just as much as it lets light in during the day. At this time, the architecture almost has the reverse effect: instead of seeming overwhelmingly large, the structure suddenly feels overwhelmingly small since the darkness offers no view or perspective to the outdoors. Conversely, however, stepping off of the confined space of a train and into the expansive space of the station is greatly welcomed, regardless of the time of day.
Located at the crossroads of north-south and east-west rail lines, the station is both functionally and symbolically placed. The structure currently sits on a piece of property which was previously a part of the “no man’s land” of the wall which divided the city into East and West. Taking this into consideration, it once again joins the city and stands as a symbol for unity and progress.