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Rathaus Spandau underground station in Berlin
Rathaus Spandau underground station © Landesdenkmalamt Berlin, Foto: Wolfgang Bittner

Underground Stations of Berlin Modernism

Why some of Berlin's most beautiful underground stations are located in Spandau

The 1980s were colourful, playful and sometimes shrill - that also applied to architecture. No wonder some of Berlin's most fascinating underground stations were built during this period.

The rattling of the incoming subway. People pouring out of the train and making their way to the exit. Others waiting on the platform or sitting on one of the benches. The familiar warning signal when closing the doors. Most people who travel in the capital will sooner or later find themselves in one of Berlin's underground stations. It doesn't matter whether you are a resident commuting to work in the morning or a visitor to Berlin driving back and forth between places of interest: They spend their time waiting for the yellow wagons of Berlin's public transport services in one of the more than 170 underground stations. 

U-Bahnhof Altstadt Spandau
U-Bahnhof Altstadt Spandau, Berlin Linie U7 © Landesdenkmalamt Berlin, Foto: Wolfgang Bittner

Works of art in an unexpected place

Together, the stations form a (largely) underground network of junctions, connected by almost 150 kilometres of track. A kind of invisible lifeline of the city that takes people wherever they want to go. For many passengers, the stations are purely functional places where they wait for their subway. Arriving at their destination, they immediately look for the exit in order to quickly return to daylight. 

If you don't look around, you'll miss out. Because the underground stations of Berlin Modernism are often works of design and architecture in public space. More than half of them are heritage protected today.

Stations built at the beginning of the 20th century such as Wittenbergplatz or Deutsche Oper have long been on Berlin's list of traffic monuments. They belong to the designs of the Swedish architect Alfred Grenander and impress with their elegant forms. 

But not only stations with classicist elements or steel columns are worth seeing today: the latest entries on the list since the end of 2018 include seven subway stations on subway line U7 between Siemensdamm and Rathaus Spandau. Town Hall. Its unusual design is an impressive example of postmodern building in Berlin's underground. And the perfect conclusion to a very special subway line. 

The U7 - The most colourful tunnel in the world 

Colourful tiles, metal columns, ceramic decorations: every station has had its own look since the beginning of Berlin's subway architecture. No station is like the other, so that every passenger can always tell by the design where he or she is. One of the best examples of this from the very beginning is the line of underground line U7, which runs from Rudow in the east of the city to the west. As Berlin's longest subway line with a history of more than 100 years, it invites you to a journey through time of a special kind. Each station's design reflects the spirit of the times that prevailed at the time of construction. And with every station heading west, it becomes more and more experimental. The fact that underground line 7 can be considered the most colourful tunnel in the world is mainly due to one man.

U-Bahnhof Paulsternstraße
U-Bahnhof Paulsternstraße, Linie U7 Berlin © Landesdenkmalamt Berlin, Foto: Wolfgang Bittner

The man who made the Berlin underground bright and colourful 

In the early 1960s, Rainer Gerhard Rümmler took up his duties as head of the design department of the West Berlin Building Department. For the next thirty years, as an architect, he shaped the face of Berlin's underground. At the beginning of his career he often used colours as the most important design medium in his underground stations. Intense tones such as the bright, dark orange coloured tiles in the Yorckstraße underground station (which had to give way to renovation in 2016) or the sun-yellow ones in the Möckernbrücke underground station.
A ride on subway line 7 is also a journey through time through Rümmler's development as an architect. From the 1960s to the 1980s he extended the line in the direction of Spandau. The further the journey leads to the west, the clearer his handwriting becomes. For Rümmler, a subway station should primarily be an "unmistakable place". For this reason, he increasingly took the surroundings of the stations into account and integrated them into his design, which at the beginning was very reserved. 

Some symbolism is only recognizable at second glance. For example, the dark green metal plates at Eisenacher Strasse underground station stand for the green of the Thuringian Forest near Eisenach. Or the colours used at the Konstanzer Strasse underground station take up the coat of arms of the city of Konstanz. But the allusions should not remain so subtle, because from the 1980s a new trend will influence architecture - the era of postmodernism is dawning. 

Endstation Postmodernism

A colourful mix of styles, colours and forms: in the last quarter of the 20th century, postmodern architecture breaks through the strict, functionalist design of previous decades. This development does not stop at the subway stations of Berlin Modernism either. 

Rainer Gerhard Rümmler lives in Spandau. At the beginning of the 1980s, during the long-awaited extension of underground line 7 in the direction of Spandau, he used the opportunity to give every station a very individual face. Above all, his architecture creates references to the places above ground. This is entirely in keeping with the zeitgeist of postmodernism: historical allusions and symbolic forms are now an important component of architecture. 

Rümmler makes a local connection at almost all of the seven underground stations between Siemensdamm and Rathaus. But this time even more so than at the stations of the 1960s and 1970s. He emphasizes typical local features that sum up his idea of an unmistakable underground station. 

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U-Bahnstationen, die Geschichten erzählen 

Fahren Sie selbst einmal die Strecke Richtung Spandau entlang und schauen Sie sich auf jedem Bahnhof genau um. Bei der U-Bahnstation Siemensdamm steht die namensgebende Firma klar im Mittelpunkt der Gestaltung. Schon der Schrifttyp des Stationsnamens ist an das Siemens-Markenlogo angelehnt. Die Wände verzieren historische Abbildungen, die auf Werner von Siemens wichtigste Errungenschaften verweisen. 

Auch die U-Bahnstation Rohrdamm ist noch von den nahe gelegenen Siemens-Werken geprägt: stilisierte Abbildungen von Maschinenteilen mit Zahnrädern symbolisieren die Nähe der Industrie. 

Richtig bunt wird es dann im U-Bahnhof Paulsternstraße. Hier sind weiß-rote Fliesenmosaike von Blumen auf dunkelblauem Hintergrund zu sehen. Die Säulen in der Mitte des Bahnsteigs sind als Bäume gestaltet, an deren Spitze riesige bunte Blüten-Halbkreise sitzen. Zuerst fällt es Rümmler schwer, auch hier einen lokalen Bezug zu finden. Dann denkt der U-Bahn Architekt an das früher in der Gegend gelegene Gasthaus, das nach seinem Besitzer Paul Stern benannt war. Die U-Bahnstation symbolisiert, was ein Gast damals bei der Durchreise sah: Blumen, Wiesen, Bäume und bei Nacht den Sternenhimmel. 

Der U-Bahnhof Haselhorst sieht im Vergleich eher nüchtern aus. Mit den Blechdecken und metallverkleideten Säulen stellt Rümmler einen Bezug zur lokalen Metallindustrie her. 

Es folgt die U-Bahnstation Zitadelle. Hier greift Rümmler die Architektur der Zitadelle Spandau auf: die Wände verkleidet er mit roten Backsteinen, die an das Mauerwerk der Festung aus dem 16. Jahrhundert erinnern. 

Besonders imposant sind die letzten beiden Stationen der Strecke: in dem U-Bahnhof Altstadt Spandau erzeugen die breiten, weiß verkleideten Säulen eine Atmosphäre wie in einer Kathedrale. Damit erinnert die U-Bahn-Architektur an die nahe gelegene Nikolaikirche. Den krönenden Abschluss bildet die Station Rathaus Spandau. Zahllose kleine Lampen an der Decke, grün-goldene Dekor-Elemente auf breiten schwarzen Granitsäulen: die Architektur dieses U-Bahnhofs schwelgt im postmodernen Spiel mit historischen Architekturzitaten. 

U-Bahnstation Deutsche Oper Berlin
U-Bahnstation Deutsche Oper Berlin © U-Bahnstation Deutsche Oper © visitBerlin, Foto: Frank Heise

Perfect representation of postmodernism

Among the modern Berlin underground stations, the stations between Siemensdamm and Rathaus Spandau are some of the most beautiful and unique. They clearly differ from the elegant early stations of Alfred Grenander, such as Wittenbergplatz or Deutsche Oper. But also from future stations such as Unter den Linden or Rotes Rathaus.  

U-Bahnhof Unter den Linden, Berlin ab 2020
U-Bahnhof Unter den Linden, Berlin ab 2020 © Ingrid Hentschel – Prof. Axel Oestreich Architekten BDA

These stations of subway line U5 feature futuristic design and a design in light, neutral colours. Rainer Gerhard Rümmler's stations, on the other hand, are colourful, symbolically charged and do not shy away from kitsch. Thus they perfectly embody the zeitgeist of postmodernism. 

Our tips about this topic

  • If you would like to find out more about the history of the Berlin subway, visit the Berlin U-Bahn-Museum. It is located in the former signal box Olympic Stadium and displays, among other things, historical ticket vending machines, uniforms and maintenance equipment. 
  • You can also learn more about the architectural features, tunnel construction methods and the history of the Berlin subway by taking a ride in the subway cabriolet.  
  • You can book historical tours of individual underground stations at the Berliner Unterwelten
  • If you would like to learn more about Rainer Gerhard Rümmler's work, we recommend the publication "Der Himmel unter West-Berlin: Die postsachlichen U-Bahnhöfe des Baudirektors Rainer G. Rümmler" by Verena Pfeiffer-Kloss, published in early 2019. 

Places of Berlin Modernism along the underground line U7

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© Landesdenkmalamt Berlin, Foto: Wolfgang Bittner


Under the direction of his architect Albert Speer, Hitler wanted to redesign Berlin as "Germania", the capital of the new German world capital. According to Hitler’s vision, two main highways, the so-called "East-West Axis" and the "North-South Axis" would have traversed the new world capital in the form of a cross. During the planning, the stability and load-bearing capacity of the Berlin construction site was tested. By building the heavy load-bearing body, the city received a gigantic structure weighing over 12,000 tons in preparation for Hitler's triumphal arch.

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