by Justin Goh
I was interested in writing about the Hauptbahnhof as it is a central train station that was unique to me. As I have travelled to many European cities and seen their central train stations, Berlin stood out from the rest. Whereas other stations were often old stone buildings and rather run-down, this one was modern and distinct. It is another aspect of Berlin that makes it different from the typical European city. Designed in 1993, construction took place from 1996-2006. Covering 175,000 m2, architect firm Gerkan, Marg & Partners designed it whilst keeping in mind the function of the station to be a crossing point in an increasingly integrated Europe. From the outside the most noticeable thing is the glass. It is constructed almost completely in glass and instantly transports it into contemporary architecture. Most contemporary office buildings use as much glass but the size and shape of Hauptbahnhof separates itself; it reminded me of a greenhouse, only larger. When arriving by train the station does not seem so awe-inspiring. From the inside it reminded me of a shopping mall with its many storeys, escalators and shops. As I walk around it begins to feel futuristic in some respects, the floor plan is completely open and one can see from one end to the other. Sunlight streams in from the windows and the endless stream of travellers can detract from stopping and looking at the surroundings.
An aspect of the design is that there is no obvious central walkway. The staggered multi levels mean that the central area appears as a series of bridges. If you look down from the upper levels of the station, one usually sees the regional train tracks at the bottom. Despite the vastness and height of the building, supporting columns and beams are not obvious and this creates a free-flowing feel to the building. Though not visible there is a network of steel cables that provides support. It almost feels futuristic, being constructed out of concrete, glass and steel. A stark contrast to the old sandstone and tiled floors I have observed throughout my travels. Another difference was the distinct lack of pigeons, whether that is due to the design of the building or effective control, I couldn’t tell.
The design of the floor allows free movement of people, allowing ample space for luggage and shopping bags. Somehow the openness made it feel quite relaxed, not like other central stations I have visited. This way of organising the space has its downfalls, however. At times the layout can be confusing as the station looks the same on both sides. To travel between storeys, one must use the escalators that are located near both ends. In the past I’ve found myself confused by the multi level layout and somewhat lost or on the wrong end of the station. Finding the right platform for your train can also be a puzzle. The ceilings are high enough to feel like there is no roof, there is almost a feeling that you are outdoors. In addition, both exits are nearly identical and this can be confusing too.
But in conclusion, I had very positive feelings at Hauptbahnhof Berlin. Perhaps a little bit of vibrancy and colour is missing but the atmosphere it creates isn’t cold or unwelcoming. Central to the impression of the building is the glass and light that comes in, as sunlight has a natural quality to it.