Thursday, March 17, 2011

Berlin tunnel pilgrimage

I try to read the local papers whereever I am. Often it's a waste of time, but sometimes you discover interesting details. The Berlin local paper – otherwise quite horrible – had a report about this unused connection tunnel at the Friedrichsstrasse station. No one really understands why it has been closed for three years. A few days ago it was opened but then was closed again immediately.

I find such places interesting because no one else does. The newspaper clipping gave me a good excuse for a mini-expedition. I had 60 minutes between two lectures and this should be just enough. But the station was much more complex than I had expected. Several levels, many tunnels, a lot of dead space and dead ends. Even some places where the homeless were sleeping undisturbed. A fascinating 3D search space, fun to explore.
Friedrichstrasse station: Complex space levels
Friedrichstrasse station: Dead space with dead electronic machines
Friedrichstrasse station: Dead space with sleeping homeless
I did not find the tunnel quickly enough on my own. So I started asking around:
  • The station masters of the Deutsche Bahn at the lowest level: did not know it.
  • Two friendly police men at the middle level: did not know it.
  • Staff at the information desk of the S-Bahn: did not know it.
  • A homeless one-legged beggar in one of the tunnels: took my 2 euros but did not even understand German.
Everyone looked at my newspaper cutting with interest and curiosity. Everyone was puzzled. A nice way to contact the locals and the officials. But my time was up. I had to return to the conference.

The metro was chock full but a few people mamanged to push in after me. Among them a short old man with a leather cap, a grey beard and intelligent eyes. He loked local, so I showed him the newspaper clipping:
  • Of course I know where it is. It's inside that building down there (pointing out of the metro window). I have lived here a long time and I know everything here (telling me about several historic buildings that the communist had torn down). I would be a good city guide for you (but he didn't make me an offer).
In the evening I returned to this place. I simply had to find that tunnel. It was not immediately obvious where I shoud start so I asked again:
  • Two cleaning ladies in the overpass bridge: did not know, pointed me to the station master.
  • Station master on the upper level: said that it was right under the overpass bridge (it was not).
Then I decided to walk in the rough direction that the old man had pointed in and there I found the entrance to the metro and the – blocked – tunnel entrance. Walking around the building I found the other tunnel entrance. I walked through the blocked tunnel. There was no one to stop me. Mission accomplished!
Tunnel entrance 1 at Friedrichstrasse
Tunnel entrance 2 at  Reichstagufer (?)
Tunnel inside - same view as newspaper clipping
Even now - as I write this blog - it is difficult to orient myself on both Google and Bing maps. The Berlin prohotographic data is hugely out of date. There are new skyscrapers now where Google and Bing show open spaces.

Lessons learned:
  • Everything can be made into a quest of discovery.
  • Searching for something is a great way to talk to strangers.
  • It's surprising how badly people know their own surroundings.
From here I went to the disused airport of Tempelhof. Another random goal to give me an excuse for wandering.

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