1 November 2006

Waiting for Trains Pt. 1


Blurbanism ∕ Buildings ∕ Public Space

Platform 6, Hauptbahnhof
Hauptbahnhof Berlin: Platform 6, seatless

Once a week I travel to Hamburg on a part time teaching job which runs until the end of January 2007, and so each Tuesday morning I leave from Berlin’s freshly erected Main Station (Hauptbahnhof), which is truely an impressive construction. A good opportunity then to compile a miscellany of notes on the location, which on each visit proffers a bevy of open questions.

This one for example: what’s with the seating situation? The subterranean platforms serving trains on a north-south route are probably a good 250m long and are home to two clusters of seats only, each of which might accomodate 16 people. Now for me, as a Brit, waiting for a train is by instinct all about the waiting, and seldom about the train, which might be delayed indefinately for any number of reasons including the wrong sort of snow, massive sudden spontaneous structural failure, antique signaling drop-out, or, famously, leaves on the track. For this reason, good and bountiful seating is a must in any railway station.

Not so, then, in Berlin’s Hauptbahnhof. The reasons of course, are simple. Firstly, trains in Germany are, by British standards, distressingly punctual. Secondly, Hauptbahnhof is actually a shopping mall, making the business of actually catching a train to go somewhere else an insignificant sideshow when you could be buying underwear, browsing seven kilometers of shelved magazines, or gorging yourself on Baltic seafood. Hell, even the centerpiece of the station, submerged in its split-level heart and bathed in sunlight, is dominated by a monumental four-meter-high sculpture of a shopping bag which, had the station been built 150 years ago, would have been the place reserved for a bronze statue of some King or other.

But more of that in the next installment.