Welcome to Berlin: Things are Slower Here

Today we start from Berlin’s subway, the U-Bahn, because the subway is where most people start when they arrive in a new city. More precisely, we’ll start at the steady, silent ticket machines of the U-Bahn: bright yellow boxes that…very…slowly…print out fragile tickets that leave ink stains on your fingers.

Words by Madeleine Morley and header image by Ina Niehoff.

Feel free to take your time, but make sure you stamp your ticket or beware the ticket collector’s unsympathetic wrath, representing just one side of the many sided Berlin. Berlin has a special, peculiar, and particular history, and although it’s described by countless guides as the design city of today, it’s always been a design conscious city. In the early 20th century, it was the first place in Europe to slice ornaments from building façades in a committed embrace of streamlined modernism.

Much has changed across the city’s façade since, but underground on the U-Bahn you can clearly observe the blended traces of Berlin’s design history: some stations are Art Nouveau and German Jugenstil in style, others Bauhaus, 70s futurism, or contemporary, pastel-colored minimalism. It’s been nearly 30 years since the fall of the wall and above ground any signs are mostly gone, but the Cold War era’s clash of opposites remains on the U-Bahn: austere Soviet designs adorn former Eastern stations, and elaborate floral motifs carved in stone are preserved in the former Western ones. The only period not present along the platforms is the Nazi era, when stations were used for bomb shelters. Then again, as you pass through the morose platform of Mohrenstraße, you might feel a little chill learning that the red marble encasing the platform is recycled from Hitler’s former Reich Chancellor Building....more