Westkreuz, Collage © Björn Paulissen


Red carpet in no-man's-land

by Sven Olaf Oehlsen and Mathis Sommer / translation by Max Bach

Get off, get on, and just don't stay in one place - motion is the name of the game at Westkreuz. Although the station's surroundings are practically empty of people, inside the S-Bahn travelers stream back and forth between the trains of numerous lines.

Here, the Ringbahn encounters the Stadtbahn, which was built on a distinctive brick viaduct at the end of the nineteenth-century as a major east-west artery through Berlin and its periphery. Long-distance trains as well as several S-Bahn lines travel over the station's four tracks to the most important Berlin train stations; from Westkreuz out past the Ring to the Olympic Stadium and farther to Spandau, or out to a summer retreat at Wannsee and from there on to Potsdam; in short, towards way out yonder.

The transfer option between the intersecting routes has existed since 1928; before that the S-Bahn trains turned onto the Ringbahn tracks and ended at Westend. The station first opened with the name "Ausstellung" (exhibition) owing to the start of construction of Berlin's exhibition center, which since then attracts millions of visitors each year. The lavish train station and its brick-expressionist main building were designed by Richard Brademann, who would make a name for himself in the 1930s as preeminent S-Bahn architect. The new exhibition compound quickly expanded until it became more easily accessible by other stations. After renaming the station "Westkreuz" in 1932, the former gateway to Berlin's trade grounds served solely as a transfer station. And so it remains up until today - despite the proximity to the Funkturm and Internationales Congress Center (ICC).

Although it is feasible to leave the bright hall of the station platform up a stairway at the northern end, the outside environment, constricted by train tracks and the city Autobahn, hardly welcomes pedestrians. The gaping abyss of an asphalt parking lot is where the station's main building used to be. Since the train station was build on a marsh as the years went by the construction was thrown off kilter, and despite massive attempts could not be saved - its demolition took place in the early 1990s. The legendary "Avus" racetrack with its infamous north curve used to run by the train station, and left some still traces in the middle of the Autobahn interchange: here an abandoned grandstand waits for an audience to fill its seats, and the old judge tower is used as a motel. Nearby is Berlin's biggest "wellness brothel," which relies on motorized individual traffic. In immediate proximity, squeezed between discarded railroad track ties, colorfully planted garden plots defy the inhospitality of the setting.

Just as isolated as the train station, but with no transfer option, is the Grunewald Cemetery. Completely enclosed by tracks, is it only reachable by a bridge, which is why soon after its construction in 1892 it took on the vernacular designation, "isle of the dead." Buried beneath the noble tombstones are artists like the dramatist and novelist Hermann Sudermann (Battle of the Butterflies, 1895), natural scientists like Hans Geiger (inventor of the Geiger counter), the historian Hans Delbrück (History of the Art of War, 1920) and other Berlin celebrities. Most of them previously lived in the bordering villa-colony Grunewald, at the turn of the century Berlin's most posh residential area and the final point of the upper class's westward migration as it fled from the expanding working-class neighborhoods.

Far from smokestacks and tenements, the bourgeoisie built an ideal world for themselves out of neo-romantic and art-nouveux elements. Their magnificent villas still have the power to impress and tempt an extensive exploratory stroll. It does actually prove worthwhile to not only transfer at Westkreuz, but also to slow down and exit the station. Although there is no red carpet, the threshold to high-society still awaits.

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