On This Day | 18 February 1902: Berlin’s first U-Bahn opens

18 February 1902: On this day in Berlin history, the first U-Bahn opens to the public.

Crowded streets, booming industry, and expanding suburbs – Berlin at the turn of the 20th century was a dynamic and modern city. Its population had rapidly increased from half a million in the 1850s to over 2 million by 1900. But rapid expansion came at the cost of easy transport connections, as Berlin’s arteries grew clogged by an increasing number of trams, buses, horses, wagons, and early automobiles.

Berlin's first U-Bahn line connected Zoologischer Garten to Stralauer Tor
One of the first U-Bahn Stations: Bülower Straße, 1903 | scan of postcard

Berlin’s planners looked towards the transport systems of their contemporary cities- London and New York- for potential solutions. Skeptical of an underground tube system like London’s because of the potential to damage their new subterranean sewerage system, the city decided on the New York alternative of a mainly elevated railway.

This first plan would predominantly be the basis for the current U1, connecting Bülowstraße (now the U2) and Warschauer Brücke (today Warschauer Straße). The decision to proceed through these working-class districts first was taken in order to avoid the well-healed areas around Leipziger Straße, whose residents insisted that the disruptive construction would not occur in their backyard.

Berlin's first u-bahn line was known as the Stammstrecke
The so-called “trunk route” | Jcornelius, 2004 CC BY-SA 3.0

German company Siemens began construction on the 10th of September, 1896 and plans were finally agreed for an extension into the richer pastures of West Berlin. Furthermore, the city was confident their sewer system could be protected and an underground extension to Potsdamer Platz was added. The eventual 1902 system, called the “Stammstrecke” (trunk route) was three lines connected through a rail triangle or “Gleisdreieck,” making the total length of the railway 10.1 kilometres.

On the 18th of February, 1902 the first section was opened to the public. The Prussian minister of public works, Karl von Thielen presided over a flock of prominent Berliners eager to take their first trips. The line would forge connections between the West at Zoologischer Garten, to the centre at Potsdamer Platz, all the way to the East at Stralauer Tor (now defunct).

Campbell Bews

This slice of On This Day in Berlin history was written by BBS Member Campbell Bews.

It’s one of four events he has chosen to remember this February. See what else made the cut on our blog.