Schöneberg, Collage © Björn Paulissen


The fifth crossing

by Mathis Sommer / translation by Max Bach

These days the tracks of the Ringbahn and Wannsee train are not the only ones that overlap at the Schöneberg transfer station. Even early on the domineering railway construction shaped the complexity and heterogeneity of its surroundings, creating spaces for numerous niches.

The first railroad line in Prussia – the so-called Stammbahn – was the precursor to the Wannsee train. From 1838 on it connected Potsdamer Station, located outside Berlin's tariff wall, to Potsdam, the king's residence. Planned for suburban traffic, the Wannsee train was built in 1877 parallel to the Stammbahn, and connected the noble residential area in the southwest of the city to the pulsating district around Potsdamer Platz. From 1891 on this was the first independent suburban route with its own tariff in the German Empire.

At this point in time the Schöneberg Station was located where today's Julius-Leber-Brücke Station sits and was a part of the Wannsee line, tethered to the Ringbahn by the Südringspitzkehre. (Before the Ringbahn was completely connected and made a full loop around Berlin, the trains would curve into the city on the tracks of the StammbahnPotsdamer Ringbahnhof, built especially for this purpose, directly next to Potsdamer Station and the triangular railway junction Gleisdreieck.)

Although the tracks of the Südringspitzkehre do not exist anymore, its former path is still noticeable in the city's layout and the unwelcoming Torgauer Straße. The isolated location of the area, marked by the enormous Gasometer and the densely built tenements concentrated around the eye-catching Gustav-Müller-Platz to the east, bears witness to this urban evolution. The Rote Insel (Red Island), surrounded by train tracks (a Prussian military train station used to be to the east) has long been known as a leftist workers' neighborhood, rebelling first against the Emperor, then the National Socialists, and most recently the construction of the Autobahn. This history-laden neighborhood also spawned fame and celebrity: Marlene Dietrich was born at Leberstrasse 65 and Hildegard Knef lived in the quarter with her grandparents.

Construction of the 78-meter-high gasometer, owned by the Berlin gas provider GASAG, began in 1908 after designs by the architect Alfred Messel.  Messel was famous for Wertheim, the department store at Leipziger Platz that was destroyed in WWII, as well as the Pergamon Museum, finished after his death. The gasometer's unused skeleton was put under landmark protection in 1994 and is supposed to serve as the emblem of the European energy forum EUREF's ambitious real estate project. With the formation of the "Gasometer Action Group," the Red Island has once more taken up its fight against the establishment.

Messel died in 1909 and was buried in the Matthäus-Gemeinde cemetery, not very far from his structure.  In the cemetery, once threatened with destruction by Albert Speer's Germania plans, elaborate mausoleums shelter, among others, the Brothers Grimm, Rudolph Virchow and the railroad king Bethel Henry Strousberg. In 2000 the organization Denk Mal PositHIV ("Think Positive") took up care of the decaying graves and set up a central memorial and burial spot for AIDS victims of all religions. Ovo Maltine (born in 1962 as Christoph Josten), transgender native of Schöneberg and well-known AIDS activist featured in a few of Rosa von Praunheim's films, was buried in 2005 in this dignified cemetery between Grossgörschenstraße and Monumentenstraße.

Up until the S-Bahn's electrification in 1933, on the spot of today's Schöneberg transfer station – Berlin's fifth after Westkreuz, Ostkreuz, Nordkreuz (Gesundbrunnen) and Südkreuz – sat the Ebersstraße Ringbahn station; its old reception building can still be reached by the side exit of the raised platform. Ebersstraße is a well-preserved residential street from the era of rapid industrial growth at the end of the 19th century, an uncommon sight in rebuilt car-friendly West Berlin. The old station fits seamlessly into this ensemble and compensates for the unfortunate main entrance on the heavily trafficked Bundesstraße 1; there are, as always, several sides to the landscape.

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