• Germany's news in English
 
app_header_v3

In photos: how Berlin's U-Bahn tells city's story

The Local · 11 Mar 2013, 07:40

Published: 11 Mar 2013 07:40 GMT+01:00

More than 500 million passengers pass through the 173 stations of Berlin's U-Bahn metro each year. Opened in 1902, it is the most extensive underground system in Germany. When connections were severed along the East-West city border in the 1960s, many stations ended up visually reflecting the areas they served.

With this in mind, Australian photographer Kate Seabrook took up the challenge of compiling a photo collection of the entire network. Starting in February 2012, she travelled the lines with a camera, getting off at each station to capture the scene before the next train arrived.

"I normally took three to 15 photos to get the shot, needing around two minutes. The challenge was getting usable shots in the window of time between one train and the next without disturbing passengers going about daily business," she told The Local.

Click here for a photo gallery of the U8 line

Despite initial concerns from husband Simon, who accompanied her on every trip, Kate said she experienced no trouble.

"A couple of people requested directions, a drunk guy asked me to take photos of him... Security questioned me once. They asked what I'm doing and I just said 'I'm taking photos of the architecture, I find it interesting'. They left me alone."

The seed, Seabrook revealed, was planted during a Paris holiday some years ago, when a tourist snap of Abbesses metro station drew her to minimalist architecture.

Impressed with Berlin's underground upon arriving in 2011, she saw the challenge of documenting it as a way to familiarize herself with her new urban surroundings.

"Berliners don't fully appreciate their daily commute. I wanted to show them how amazing the U-Bahn is," she said. "I researched the idea beforehand as I wanted to be sure no-one had done it before."

She discovered there was a "Miss U-Bahn" pageant with the outfits of contestants matching various stations and a book containing photographic highlights of the network.

Yet a photo collection picturing each line from end to end was something she did not come across.

"As far as I know, no one has documented it in this manner," she said.

One striking pattern she noticed in the process was the way a station's appearance matched that of the local area.

"Occasionally stations reflect their surroundings. The station Rohrdamm (Rohr means 'pipe') has a design which makes clear it's an industrial area. Heidelberger Platz, located in affluent Wilmersdorf and adorned with cathedral-like Gothic arches, is another example."

The contrast between what was once West and East Berlin is also noticeable in places.

"On the whole, stations in the former East are more functional and simpler in appearance. Wealthier areas seem to have gone to greater lengths designing and preserving existing stations," Seabrook said.

Before arriving in Germany, Seabrook worked for a photography business in Melbourne. She and her husband fancied the challenge of a new culture and had been considering a move to Europe for some years.

Berlin seemed to offer the right balance. "We wanted a bit of a culture shock, but not too much," she said.

Knowledge of German is nevertheless a vital attribute, Seabrook said: "I think it's difficult to get work here if you don't speak the language."

Asked about future plans for the project, Seabrook said she hoped to turn the series into a book.

Story continues below…

"It's important the photos stay as a set and a book would certainly make that possible," she said.

The attention the project has attracted inspired her to repeat the feat in other European cities, with the Nuremberg U-Bahn, Germany's newest, and Prague metro currently topping her list. She has no plans to cover Berlin's commuter rail system, the S-Bahn.

"People ask if I'll shoot the S-Bahn but it's not a manageable, contained project. Lines are long and station architecture becomes very uniform in the outskirts," Seabrook said.

As someone better placed than most to comment on the famed efficiency of German transport, she admitted to being impressed.

"Ninety percent of the time trains turned up on the dot. Once I foolishly decided to shoot on a Sunday, however, which happened to fall after the coldest night of the year. It was minus 15 and the line had a significant portion above ground. The ten-minute wait felt like an hour!"

Her favourite station? She had to settle for two: Pankstraße, with its instantly recognizable "Octopus" font, and Konstanzer Straße, whose walls are streaked with a blinding blend of orange, yellow and black.

Matthew Luxmoore

Related links:

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

20:10 March 15, 2013 by PierceArrow
Germany's U-bahn transit rocks! I have had the pleasure of using the U-bahn in Hannover, Munich and Berlin.
08:21 March 20, 2013 by HansT
For an "art" project, it's pretty damn dull.
16:40 March 23, 2013 by oneleggedhorse
......................... and?
Today's headlines
President who pioneered Moscow ties dies aged 97
Former Cold War President of West Germany Walter Scheel. Photo: DPA.

Former West German president Walter Scheel, who helped pave the way for his country's rapprochement with the communist East, has died aged 97, his party's spokesman said on Wednesday.

Former East to lag behind West for years to come: study
Poverty in eastern Germany. File photo: DPA

Eastern Germany remains economically anaemic with little prospect of catching up with the rest of the country by 2030, a study published on Wednesday said.

Turkey's spy network in Germany 'thicker than Stasi's'
Photo: DPA.

Turkey has around 6,000 informants working in Germany, which experts say means they're each monitoring more people than the Stasi did in West Germany during the Cold War.

Germany's first 'intelligent' bridge to open in Nuremberg
File photo: DPA

An €11 million bridge, which is nearing completion in northern Bavaria, is set to include technology never seen before on the German Autobahn.

Stockpile food in case of attack, Germany tells citizens
Photo: DPA

Germany on Wednesday urged its population to stockpile food and water in case of terrorist or cyber attacks, as it adopted its first civil defence strategy since the end of the Cold War.

Ten injured after freight train crashes into bus in Osnabrück
The crash site in Osnabrück. Photo: DPA

A freight train crashed into a bus in Osnabrück on Wednesday morning, leaving several people badly injured, local media report.

Man wins ten-year court battle over €2.50 surcharge
Photo: DPA

An Austrian man has won a ten year court battle over an extra €2.50 he was asked to pay to get into a swimming pool in Bavaria a decade ago.

In Pictures
Düsseldorf swoons as Prince William comes for royal visit
'Well hello Mr. Prince'. Photo: DPA.

Prince William paid a visit to the Rhineland city of Düsseldorf on Wednesday to celebrate the state of North Rhine-Westphalia's 70th birthday. Here's a look at his royal stay.

Brexit
Frankfurt attempts to charm banks away from London
Frankfurt am Main. Photo: DPA

Germany's finance capital has spotted an opportunity with the Brexit-wary banking beasts of the Square Mile.

How did this bike end up on top of Berlin’s Molecule Man?
A professional climber 'rescuing' the bike hanging from the Molecule Man. Photo: DPA.

Berliners are still scratching their heads over how a bicycle ended up dangling from the capital’s iconic statue.

Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Gallery
Germany's 17 Olympic gold medals in pictures
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
Culture
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Rhineland
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Culture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
Lifestyle
The best ways to get a visa as an American in Germany
14 facts you never knew about the Brandenburg Gate
Society
Ten times Germans proved they really, really love beer
Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
Lifestyle
What's on in Germany: events for August 2016
Sponsored Article
Five things Americans should know about voting abroad
National
Six things you need to know when moving to Germany
Travel
These 10 little-known German towns are a must see
Sponsored Article
Jordan Pass: your ticket to the experience of a lifetime
International
German scientists prove birds can sleep while flying
Sponsored Article
Jordan: where history meets adventure
Technology
London v. Berlin: Which is better for startups?
Lifestyle
13 mortifying mistakes German learners always make
Sponsored Article
6 reasons expats use TransferWise to send money
Travel
Enter if you dare: Berlin's best abandoned haunts
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Lifestyle
10 rookie errors all Brits make when they arrive in Germany
Sponsored Article
Five things Americans should know about voting abroad
National
How to get German citizenship (or just stay forever)
Sponsored Article
Jordan: where history meets adventure
Technology
Brexit will turn Berlin into 'Europe’s startup capital'
Sponsored Article
6 reasons expats use TransferWise to send money
Travel
Six soothing day trips to escape the bustle of Berlin
International
'Germany needs to make UK come to its senses'
Features
Six odd things Germans do in the summer
Features
How two gay dads cut through German red tape to start a family
8,647
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd