On behalf of Tally-Ho Corner Tours I’d like to welcome you aboard this nonagenarian Class 476.3 electric multiple unit. Today, with a little help from your imagination and my copy of Train Simulator 2021, we will be traversing the southern portion of one of Berlin’s north-south commuter arteries, the bottle green S25. Those of you that chose not to rendezvous with me and Roman earlier this morning, missed a treat. During a whistle-stop walking tour of Teltow we visited the studio of one of Germany’s most acclaimed contemporary artists, Markus Lüpertz, and took in the Deutsches Schweinemuseum, a treasure trough for fans of things porcine.
As Virtual Tracks, the outfit behind the £25 “Heart of Berlin” add-on, has taken the trouble to wire up the more important switches and knobs in the 476.3’s cab, it will be a few minutes before we are ready to depart Teltow Stadt. Cold-starting this endearing four-car commuter carrier involves inserting a driver’s key into the master controller by my left hand, turning on a compressor and lowering a collector shoe via a panel behind me, crossing the cab to switch on headlights and spin a large handbrake wheel, and – so that our destination blinds impart useful information – returning to this seat to enter route codes into the ‘Kruger device’.
Hmm, I think I’ve wasted enough time trying to persuade the headlamps to display white lights only (annoyingly, they insist on showing red and white simultaneously). Let’s be on our way! Berliners of a certain age*, prepare to be madeleined by an incredibly evocative traction motor whine.
* Londoners too. The talkative 476.3s sound a lot like old Tube trains.
A character dear to generations of East German children was born a short hike from our starting point. Local writers Ingeborg and Günther Feustel created mischievous kobold Pittiplatsch in the early 60s for a TV puppet show. The little scallywag’s enduring popularity can be judged by the viewing figures for videos such as the one above and the fact that Pitti starred in one of the eight games available on the Poly Play, the GDR’s only home-produced arcade machine.
Teltow lost its rail connection to Berlin in dramatic fashion in the summer of 1961. The cause of that loss severed the line about…
…here. When the Berlin Wall was hastily erected during the night of 12 and 13 August 1961, Lichterfelde Süd, the station just around the corner, became the terminus of what was known at the time as the Anhalt Suburban Line. The wire and dragons teeths were briefly removed so that a train trapped at Teltow could rejoin its stablemates, but Teltowians had to wait 44 years for the next direct service to Berlin.
Now Lichterfelde Süd is behind us we’ll be sashaying past Osdorfer Strasse shortly. If those high-rises on our right weren’t in the way and Virtual Tracks had fashioned a slightly wider strip of scenery you’d be able to see the Fliegeberg.
One of two artificial hills close to the S25, “Fly Hill” was Otto Lilienthal’s solution to the lack of decent glider launch spots in Lichterfelde. The intrepid birdman who inspired the Wright Brothers to think bigger than bicycles, had the 15 metre high tumulus built in 1894. Sadly, he got relatively little use out of his hillock. In August 1896, Otto died after stalling and crashing one of his primitive hang gliders in the Rhinow Hills NW of Berlin.
Apologies to any tram enthusiasts on board. We don’t have time for photographs outside Lichterfelde Ost station – one end of the world’s very first electric tram line. Opened in 1881, the Gross-Lichterfelde Tramway linked these platforms with the Prussian Army academy 2.4 kilometres to the west.
For many years the tram-served Preußische Hauptkadettenanstalt was home to an unusually divisive and bulky big cat. Commissioned by the Danes to commemorate their victory over German separatists at the Battle of Isted in the First Schleswig War, the impressive Isted Lion was filched from Flensburg at the end of the Second Schleswig War and shipped to Berlin, finishing up in the grounds of the cadet academy. Repatriated to Denmark in late 1945, the statue sparked many a heated debate in Copenhagen in the decades that followed. It wasn’t until 2010 that Danish politicians finally agreed that it should be allowed to cross the border again and return to its original site in Flensburg.
In the Thirties in a converted villa a few hundred metres north of Lichterfelde Ost station the brilliant Manfred von Ardenne invented, amongst other things, the first scanning electron microscope, and the first fully electronic television. This boffin’s boffin must have been an Operation Paperclip target, but, as every student of WW2 knows, it was the Russians who rolled into Berlin first. Recruited by the Soviets, Ardenne spent nine years in the USSR working on nuclear fusion-related isotope enrichment and plasma research (he was asked to join the Soviet atomic bomb project, but refused realising it would mean permanent exile from his homeland) before returning to East Germany to found a unique independent research institute. He went on to make important contributions in several fields including medical technology, and sit in the Volkskammer – the East German parliament.
Ardenne’s villa somehow managed to survive the monsoon of RAF bombs that fell by mistake* on Lichterfelde and the neighbouring suburb of Lankwitz on the night of 23/24 August, 1943. Berlin’s and the RAF’s worst night of the war at that point (the raid claimed the lives of around 900 Berliners, destroyed or seriously damaged 2600 building, and cost Bomber Command 56 aircraft – 23 Halifaxes, 17 Lancasters, and 16 Stirlings) would soon be eclipsed by much worse. On 22 November 1943, at the height of the aerial onslaught known as the Battle of Berlin, a single raid killed 2000 and made 175000 homeless.
* The pathfinding Mosquitos failed to locate the intended target, the city centre.
The Allies weren’t the only ones responsible for wartime destruction in this neck-of-the-woods. This bridge’s predecessor, in fact all bridges across the Teltow Canal, were blown by the Wehrmacht in the final weeks of the war in a desperate attempt to keep the Red Army from taking the capital.
If time permitted I’d suggest we alight at this station, Südende, and stroll down to Steglitz town hall, the birthplace, in 1896, of the Wandervogel movement. Similar to Baden-Powell’s Scouts, but less reliant on adults and with a greater emphasis on hiking, folk song singing, and, in the case of splinter group, the Jung-Wandervogel, homo-erotic horseplay, the organisation’s nationalistic underpinnings didn’t save it during the Nazi era. Like other youth groups it was outlawed so that the Hitlerjugend could flourish unopposed.
Look left as we climb and curve towards Priesterweg and you’ll see one of Berlin’s most thought-provoking war mementos. That observatory-topped hill is Insulaner, a 78 metre high landmark created using 1.8 million cubic metres of rubble between 1946 and 1951. Insulaner is a pimple compared to another of the city’s rubble peaks, Teufelsberg.
Between Priesterweg and Sudkreuz, the S25 is sandwiched between a vast area of allotments/gardens and an unusual park. When city planners decided to convert the derelict Tempelhof marshalling yards into a public green space in the 1990s, they rather splendidly chose to leave much of the railway infrastructure in place. Today “366 different species of ferns and spermatophytes, 49 mushroom species, 49 species of birds, 14 grasshopper and cricket species, 57 spider species and 95 bee species” thrive amongst Natur-Park Südgelände’s birch-shaded sidings.
Sudkreuz is where you’d exchange a third-rail EMU for something a little speedier if you were making for Frankfurt, Munich, Dresden, Prague or Vienna. It’s also where you’d detrain if you were keen to see Marlene Dietrich’s birthplace. The sultry screen idol was born in an apartment block about 500 metres NW of the station.
The aircraft that soar over this section of the route are Virtual Tracks’ nod to nearby Berlin-Tempelhof Flughafen, the famous airport that played such a pivotal role in the Berlin Airlift. Had Oberst Rudolf Böttger, Tempelhof’s commander in the final days of the war in Europe, obeyed his orders rather than shot himself, then the airport’s spectacular curving terminal could well have ended up as part of Insulaner.
The windowless concrete cylinder gliding past on the right at present is a strong contender for the title of Berlin’s Strangest Structure. If Hitler had had his way, today this spot would probably be dominated by a colossal swastika-plastered triumphal arch. The Schwerbelastungskörper (“heavy load-bearing body”) over yonder was a preliminary to the arch – Speer’s test to check whether the area’s soggy, sandy soils were capable of supporting the weight of such an outsized edifice.
Before we plunge into the Stygian gloom of the Nord-Süd Tunnel and I reach for the quicksave key, our beetling conveyance fans the faces of platform prowlers on Yorkstrasse Station and, a few seconds later, gives us an opportunity to admire the Yorckbrücken, a cluster of 33 (largely) disused railway bridges. An ungainly compromise thrashed out by Berlin’s railway barons and urban planners in the 1870s, the bridges span a 500 metre-long section of sunken highway and today serve as a kind of accidental civil engineering museum.
Sorry, this is where we halt for the time being. In the next instalment of Berlin Bisected we’ll centipede under the history-rich heart of the German capital.
(TO BE CONTINUED. Not necessarily next Friday.)