If I ever had to vote in a competition for the best railway station in the world, I would almost certainly choose Berlin Hauptbahnhof (Hbf). I would have thought for a moment about Shinjuku, Beijing South and maybe even the new Kings Cross, but none really come close to Berlin Hbf. If you have never been, it’s an ultra modern multi level station which at times feels like a shopping centre. That’s because it is in part a shopping centre. As you approach the station on the inter city tracks you climb up and enter the very top deck of the station. At night time this looks like how docking at a space station might work. Beneath you lines leave the station at right angles integrating Inter-City and regional trains with local commuter services and the U Bahn network. Everything is spotless and works as was designed to do.
As I write this blog I’m sitting in the Hopfingerbrau bar inside the station enjoying a Berliner beer and a pretzel. Looking out at people going about their business i can’t see anyone looking stressed or I’ll temperered. The design of the station seems to be having a genuine effect on the mood of the passengers and the quality of their experience.
I have enjoyed a short break here in Berlin. It’s my first proper visit in 30 years, and of course much has changed. My memories of the inter rail summer trip of 1986 are somewhat hazy, but I definitely remember taking a train through East Germany and the “Berlin corridor” – then spending a couple of days in West Berlin. My trip also included a day trip to East Berlin via Checkpoint Charlie. Call me paranoid, but I am sure that we were tailed for a few hours as we blew our compulsorily exchanged East German Marks on lunch and some schnapps glasses in a rather quaint but empty department store.
Today Checkpoint Charlie is just a tourist trap, but it’s good to get a context of the wall and the ghost stations on the U-Bahn in the area. Berlin has been kind to me. It’s the sort of city that welcomes visitors and looks after them. I hope to return here again soon.