Friedrichstrasse in one of Berlin’s most famous streets. It runs for two miles through a main business and entertainment section of Germany’s capital. In the centre of this thoroughfare stands Friedrichstrasse Station, built in 1878.
The station stands on Friedrichstrasse at a crossing point on the River Spree. Underneath the main station is the Friedrichstrasse U-Bahn station. It is a main destination for tourists and regional rail traffic.
Johannes Vollmer designed the first station in 1878. It opened on 7th February 1882 as part of a ceremonial unveiling of the new Berlin Stadtbahn. Long distance trains first left the station on 15th May 1882. Always a busy station, Friedrichstrasse saw extensions added even before the outbreak of World War One. Further development took place between 1919 and 1925.
The station has often made the news. In 1907, a huge robbery took place with 4,700 German marks stolen from a currency exchange office. The train platforms also proved a hive of activity during and in the lead up to World War Two.
The north-south S-Bahn underground tunnel was built under the station in the early 1930s. From here was also built an underground tunnel to link to the U-Bahn station of the same name. Yellow tiles covered the tunnel walls. The colour remains today. The underground S-Bahn station opened on 27th July 1936 before the summer Olympic Games took place in the city.
In 1937, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor arrived at Friedrichstrasse Station to meet leading members of the Nazi party. In 1939, the same platform greeted William Joyce as he began his career as Lord Haw-Haw on German Radio.
From Kristallnacht on 1st December 1938, thousands of Jewish children began to evacuate Germany. Many left from this station as part of the Kindertransport.
Trains To Life – Trains To Death
By the exit on Georgenstrasse stands a further memorial to the 1939-1945 conflict. ‘Trains To Life – Trains To Death’ is a bronze sculpture depicting children fleeing the Nazi regime.
It commemorates the 1.6 million child victims of the Holocaust, as well as around 10,000 others, secreted to the United Kingdom. One of the depicted children is the artist Frank Meisler. He was one of those sent to England before the outbreak of war.
An unveiling of the 2.25 metre tall sculpture took place on 30th November 2008. It is one of four by the artist along the escape route. The others are ‘Kindertransport – The Departure’ in Danzig, Poland, ‘Kindertransport – The Arrival in London, England and ‘Channel Of Life’ at the Hook of Holland, Netherlands.
The Zagra-lin Polish sabotage and diversionary squad bombed the station in 1943. Fourteen people died and a further twenty-seven sustained injuries in the attack. The station escaped further major damage during the Allied bombing of Berlin. On 23rd and 25th April 1945, trains halted due to a shortage of electricity.
Memorial To Murdered Soldiers
On Friedrichstrasse, next to what is now a McDonald’s, a plaque pays tribute to two young German soldiers. When translated, it reads:
Shortly before the end of Hitler’s criminal war, two young German soldiers were hanged here by inhuman SS bandits.
The executions mentioned took place in April 1945. The two teenage recruits in question refused to fight any longer in a war, which to them, was already lost.
The soldiers were two of many executed for desertion in the final stages of the war. Soon after Germany’s defeat, Berliners erected a wooden tablet on the site. This made it one of Berlin’s first Second World War Memorials. It has been replaced several times from an aluminium plaque in 1952 to the current incarnation in 1999.
The Escape of Martin Bormann
Another notable story of the final days of the war revolved around Friedrichstrasse Station. After capitulation, many leading Nazis committed suicide or attempted escape. One who chose to flee and could not be accounted for was Hitler’s Private Secretary Martin Bormann.
He left the bunker with the head of the Hitler Youth Artur Axmann, SS doctor Ludwig Stumpfegger and others on 1st May 1945. They headed along Friedrichstrasse towards the station hoping to gain entry to the U-Bahn system of tunnels. Three German tanks also proceeded along the street and the fleeing group used them as cover.
Having failed to gain entry to Friedrichstrasse Station, they crossed the Weidendanner Bridge. The tank nearest Bormann was struck by an anti-tank rocket. Many different theories exist on what happened next. Most rumours circulated to keep the Allies guessing about Bormann’s location. Some rumours persist until the present day despite scientific proof otherwise.
Bormann made it as far as the Lehrter Bahnhof where his abandoned personal diary was found by Soviets. A postal worker found the bodies of Bormann and Stumpfegger and buried them nearby. Both men died of cyanide poisoning. In 1972 the bodies were discovered during building work and dental records and DNA testing proved identification.
On 2nd May 1945, Berlin surrendered. Nazis detonated the north-south tunnel under the Landwehrkanal. This flooded the tunnel including the underground S-Bahn station and a large part of Berlin’s U-Bahn system.
Post-War Friedrichstrasse Station
Reconstruction began in 1945 with overground trains the first to return to operation. The pedestrian tunnels underground were sealed in June 1945 to stop further flooding of the underground tunnels. Draining of flooded tunnels began on 4th June 1945.
Limited functionality returned to Friedrichstrasse Station’s underground facilities on 12th July 1945. Regular U-Bahn services resumed on 5th December 1945. The underground S-Bahn station opened again on 2nd June 1946 but closed for extensive rebuilding on 1st December 1946. By 16th October 1947, the entire station had returned to pre-war usage.
During the Cold War, Friedrichstrasse Station became a main crossing point between East Berlin and West Berlin. It lay deep in East German territory on the border between East and West of the divided city. As such, trains from West Germany still stopped there, as did international trains from outside the Iron Curtain.
Steel walls divided the segregated platforms, which were patrolled by armed guards. A steel and glass building built in 1962 became a border patrol area.
The building was given the name Tränenpalast or Palace Of Tears due to the number of sad farewells it housed. Today it is a listed monument and houses artifacts providing a look back at divided society.
After reunification in the 1990s, Friedrichstrasse Station received a makeover. Further developments and refurbishments followed until the mid-2010s. Today’s station bears little resemblance to those which saw so much Second World War and Cold War drama unfold.