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A trip to Berlin’s Hauptbahnhof Photos

July 25th, 2014

If you’re looking to visit one of Europe’s historical railroad stations, the Berlin Hauptbahnhof probably isn’t it. Opened in 2006, the city’s “main” or “central” station is a modern mix of rail and commercial space, encased in glass. There is, however, something to be said about the station’s upper floor, with a dome that evokes the train sheds of yesteryear (the glass is, however, thoroughly modern and contains 2700 square meters of solar paneling). While several tracks are located below ground, and there is a U-Bahn station further underground that will transport you to the Reichstag or Brandenburg Gate, the station’s most photogenic spot likely can be found under that dome.

The Lehrter Bahnhof in 1879
The Lehrter Bahnhof in 1879

Historically, the Berlin Hauptbahnhof was constructed on the former site of the Lehrter Bahnhof, which dated back to 1871. Unfortunately, that station was heavily damaged in World War II, and after the partition of Germany – which wreaked havoc on the city’s transportation systems – it was ultimately decided to demolish it. The last train departed the station in August of 1951, and by 1959 the station was completely gone, though the Stadtbahnhof viaducts which ran overhead were preserved.

Lehrter Stadtbahnhof
The Lehrter Stadtbahnhof in 1998, photo by Röhrensee.

The adjacent Lehrter Stadtbahnhof station, opened in 1882, lasted longer than the Lehrter Bahnhof, but ultimately met the same fate. Carrying suburban traffic, these trains were electrified and were given the name S-Bahn in 1930. Although surviving World War II intact, the division of Germany similarly affected the station. After the construction of the Berlin Wall, West Berliners boycotted the S-Bahn, as it was operated by the state railway of East Germany, which further took its toll. Although West Berlin assumed control of the station in the 1980s, and it was subsequently renovated for Berlin’s 750th anniversary, the Lehrter Stadtbahnhof finally met its end in 2002 to make way for the Hauptbahnhof.

Construction of the Berlin Hauptbahnhof
Construction on the Berlin Hauptbahnhof in 2005. Photo by Nuuttipukki.

By the time the Berlin Wall fell, city planners were looking to create a new, central railway station for the city, and by 1992 the site of the former Lehrter Bahnhof was finally chosen. The slowly evolving station site was known as the “Berlin Hauptbahnhof – Lehrter Bahnhof,” a nod to that old station. Construction consisted of new tunnels for long distance and U-Bahn trains, and bridges for the S-Bahn. Finally opened on May 26, 2006, the station contains six upper level tracks and eight lower level tracks. The single tracked U55 line was added in 2009, and is currently orphaned from the rest of the U-Bahn network. It is hoped that the U55 will be merged into the U5 line by 2017.

Anyway, let’s take a quick visit to the Berlin Hauptbahnhof, through a collection of photographs I took back in May. I’d hardly complain about the station, as there are many photogenic spots, and it is nothing but completely modern (right down to the solar panels!), but admittedly a tiny part of me wishes I could have been checking out the old Lehrter Bahnhof!

 
  
   
  
 
  
   
 
 
  
 
 

Sunsets and Long Exposure Photography on the Rails Photos

July 18th, 2014

Over the past few weeks I’ve spent my evenings exploring the rails, photographing at one of my favorite times of the day – sunset. While one generally loses the illumination of the sun’s rays, you gain a multitude of colors in the sky… and to me, there is just something magical about that.

In terms of night photography – or at least, what railfans tend to think about night photography – one usually uses artificial lights to illuminate a posed, unmoving train. Though it seems to be the en vogue thing to do these days, I see little reason to do so other than “because we can.” Most seem to do it for the novelty, or because all the “cool kids” are doing it. Many that take part look to evoke the work of O. Winston Link, arguably the best night railroad photographer ever (though Jack Delano, whose photographs I featured last week, was also an accomplished night photographer – it was never really his “claim to fame,” however). Unfortunately, most fall flat in their endeavor to “be like Link.” While I can see the merits of photographing steam trains at night (the lower light allows one to capture sweeping plumes of smoke from the engine), I see little reason to do it with modern trains. After dark I find it far more fun to capture not the train itself, but the train’s movement, and its environment.

Because of the low ambient light, long exposure photography allows one to record the movement of the train, rendered as blurs of light. In order to get a proper exposure, your camera shutter is open for longer – in some cases for 15 seconds or more (thus a stable resting place, preferably a tripod, is required). Done right, any moving object in the frame shows up as a blur, or a streak. Modern electric trains, like Metro-North’s M7s and M8s, with their shiny and smooth exteriors and LED lights lend themselves to this, becoming graceful blurs. Instead of artificial light, one uses the “natural” (or as natural as the light off a cityscape could be), and the intense colors of a sunset to evoke a completely different mood. Since I don’t really have a post lined up for this week, I figured I’d share some of my recent photographs taken at sunset, or at night… and maybe convince some of you that there is fun to be had after dark, far away from the now all too common “night photo sessions.”


The sun fades, and the colors of sunset slowly begin to appear on the Upper Harlem Line in Dover Plains.


An imposing graffiti-covered support for the Hell Gate Bridge at sunset.

 
Colorful skies over Metro-North stations in the Bronx – Tremont and Melrose.


The sun sets over the Hudson River, near New Hamburg.

 
Sunset over the Northeast Corridor, near Sherwood Island State Park in Westport, Connecticut.


A pink sky over Amtrak’s Hell Gate Bridge.

Sunsets and long exposures
The headlight of an M7 reflects against the waters of the Hudson River at Dobbs Ferry.


The fun part of later hour photography is the motion blur, like this shot at Melrose station…


…or this one at the Saugatuck River Bridge…


…and even this one at Harlem-125th Street.


The low-light of a subway system makes long-exposure photography easy, like these two examples on Chicago’s Blue Line.


While a tripod is best, a nice fence or support in which to rest your camera also works, as seen here on this Chicago L platform.


A Brown Line train and a ferry boat are just mere streaks of light as they pass over the Chicago River. In this instance, the camera’s shutter was open for 20 seconds.


Let the light of the city shine in the ultimate version of long exposure photography. In this case, the Chicago skyline. The tracks of the Ogilvie Transportation Center are just visible at right.

The Railroad Photos of Jack Delano Transit Museum History Photos

July 10th, 2014

These days almost everyone has a camera – whether it be a point and shoot, an SLR, or just the stock camera that came with your cell phone. Despite all the criticism of people these days and what they’re photographing, part of me thinks that the people of the future who consume all their nutrients in pill form might find today’s photos of food taken by hipsters rather quaint. The fact remains that what is commonplace today may be noteworthy and historic tomorrow. Time has only proven this true – Boris Klapwald’s snapshots of Grand Central Terminal were boxed up and forgotten for nearly fifty years, until discovered by his daughter. She brought them to the MTA, and they were exhibited in the Terminal through Arts for Transit. Street photographer Vivian Maier was practically unknown until her largely undeveloped film was put up for auction after her death. Her discovered photos have since been exhibited around the world, and is the subject of a documentary. Although the good majority of the photos captured these days aren’t much to write home about, it is undeniable that we are well-documenting our world, and the things future generations will most likely interpret as just plain weird.

Though cameras were far less common in the past, there were many photographers that froze glimpses of what was then normal life. I’ve posted about the Depression-era photographers of the Farm Security Administration before – despite the name, the project yielded thousands of photos that had nothing to do with farms, but instead featured normal Americans living life – including two of the most iconic photographs of Grand Central Terminal. A similarly iconic photo of Chicago’s Union Station also came out of the project, captured by photographer Jack Delano. Delano’s railroad-specific work in the Chicago area is currently on display at the Chicago History Museum, which I recently got the chance to check out.

Portrait of photographer Jack Delano and a locomotive
Portrait of photographer Jack Delano and a locomotive

Though I’m not a frequent visitor to Chicago, I had been to many of its museums (including the Museum of Science and Industry where the legendary Empire State Express #999 now lives). This was, however, my first visit to the Chicago History Museum. The museum provides an interesting look at the history of this unique city – from railroading, to the origins of atomic chain-reactions, and yes, even that cow that supposedly started that fire.

Within you’ll find well designed exhibits, and signs that not only encourage photography, but invite you to share your thoughts and snaps on social media. Jack Delano’s Homefront Photography, as the exhibit is called, depicts the life of railroaders in the Chicago area during World War II, as part of the federal government’s Office of War Information (successor to the aforementioned Farm Security Administration). Besides showing the hardworking men (and women) that kept the country running during the war, Delano’s photographs capture the waning years of steam railroading in the United States.

If you happen to be in the Chicago area between now and next year, the exhibit is worth checking out. For more information, visit the museum’s web page.

 
  
  
  
   
  
  

Born Yakov Ovcharov in Voroshylivka (then part of the Russian Empire, now part of Ukraine), Jack Delano emigrated to the United States with his family in 1923. Delano studied graphic arts, photography, and music, and was talented in all three disciplines. After graduating from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, he embarked on a photographic project documenting coal miners in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania. With this portfolio, he applied for (and was accepted to) a job in the photography program of the Farm Security Administration. He remained in the program as the FSA was consolidated into the Office of War Information, where he captured railroads in the Chicago, Oklahoma, and California areas.

Below you’ll find a selection of some of my favorite Chicago-area Jack Delano railroad photographs, several of which were in the exhibit. Thousands of Delano’s photographs are available online to view at the Library of Congress, railroad and otherwise.

 
  
   
  
  
   
  
 
  
 
  
 
  
 
  
   
  
 

Beautiful Underground – Gems of the Berlin U-Bahn History Photos

July 2nd, 2014

For over 200 years railways have been constructed across the globe to carry freight and people. Besides the trains, the integral part of every railway is, of course, the stations themselves. Some stations are rudimentary and simple, but others are undeniable gems. We’ve spent the past few weeks touring Berlin’s U-Bahn, which has many interesting stations, mixed in with plenty more bare and utilitarian stops that are hardly noteworthy. We are, however, back again to check out more attractive locales of the Berlin U-Bahn.

From the attractive Oberbaumbrücke to the unexpected above ground stations, Berlin’s U-Bahn is a captivating transit system. I’m not a big fan of subway stations, likely because I love light, of which there is never quite enough underground. However, some of the U3 Line’s underground stations are hard to ignore. A handful of some of the U-Bahn’s earliest stations are attractive gems. Many were located in the city of Wilmersdorf – then a suburb of Berlin. Conceptually, the stations’ aesthetic was to represent the affluence of the city – represented through elaborate stonework. The resulting stations featured Doric columns, granite floors, wrought iron gates, mosaic tiling, and sandstone-carved sculptures. By 1920 Wilmersdorf was folded into Greater Berlin, but these stations retain both the character and history of its predecessor.

Heidelberger Platz, circa 1915
A circa-1915 postcard of Heidelberger Platz station. Image from the Berlin U-Bahn Archive.

Though there are about five stations on the U3 Line that fit that description, we’re going to visit three of them – Hohenzollernplatz, Fehrbelliner Platz, and Heidelberger Platz. All three were designed by architect Wilhelm Leitgebel, with construction beginning in 1909 and opening in 1913.

 
  
   
  
   
 

Our first stop is to Hohenzollernplatz. The station is decorated with ceramic tiling, mosaic inlays in the ceiling, and an eagle motif – representative of the House of Hohenzollern. On the walls of the station are photographs of Hohenzollern Castle, ancestral home of the Hohenzollern family, from which came several kaisers of the German empire.

 
  
  

Fehrbelliner Platz is the next station along the way, and you can board both U3 and U7 trains here. The U7 portion was constructed in the late 1960s, and opened in January 1971. It is much more modern, and lacks the charm of the original U3 station. Much of the U3 platform, however, looks similar to the way it did at opening in 1913. The station features both historical photos and ceramic tiling. Octagonal central supports are covered in ceramic plates, and the walls have an inlay showing a historical train car. Wrought iron gates and grilles, some of which remind me of Grand Central, were designed by Michael Römmisch.

 
  
   
 
  
 
   
  
 
  
 

The last station on this Underground tour is Heidelberger Platz, which was constructed deep underground to avoid another rail line. The station is comprised of several groin vaults supported by squat columns on an island platform. Sculpted on each of these columns is a different animal, all creations of sculptor Martin Meyer-Pyritz. Additional sculptural elements, like the traditional winged wheel symbol of transportation, can be found within. Mosaic tiles found at the platform entranceways complete the attractive aesthetic, and depict flowers and the coat of arms of Wilmersdorf.

A total of 170 stations across nine lines make up Berlin’s U-Bahn system, and it is obvious that not all of them are going to be amazing bits of architecture. However, stations like those on the U3 Line make the system a delight to explore, to photograph, and perhaps even to visit from thousands of miles away (and through a computer monitor).

A Farewell to White Plains station staple – Waxman’s News Events

June 20th, 2014

Any regular commuter through White Plains is likely familiar with Gary Waxman, proprietor of the station’s newsstand. And if you were a real regular, chances are Waxman even knew you by name. Last night, however, marked the end of an era – it was Waxman’s final day of work in the station.

Waxman's News
Some final sales are made at Waxman’s News in White Plains.

Years before Metro-North was even established, Gary Waxman’s father purchased the retail space for the newsstand in the long-gone Warren & Wetmore-designed White Plains station. The younger Waxman spent weekends working the newsstand, and ultimately opted to work there full time instead of heading off to college. The elder Waxman bowed out of newsstand operations in 1986 due to illness, and Gary has run the business ever since. Much has changed since then, most notably the old station being torn down and a new one constructed in 1987. Waxman’s News was, of course, reestablished in the new White Plains station.

Alas, after many years Waxman has called it quits. With the rising cost of rent, and the falling sales of newspapers, Waxman opted not to put in a bid for a renewed contract with the MTA. Reunion Coffee, the other establishment in the station, also did not get a renewed contract and the space has been sitting vacant since January. Plans for a Tim Horton’s in the space have not yet produced anything, leaving many commuters disappointed. The transition for the newsstand, however, will be far smoother. In fact, the new proprietor took over today. Undoubtedly some folks probably never even noticed, with the exception of some potentially higher prices, and an operator that didn’t know your name.

Although his job is done, Gary Waxman made an appearance at the station this morning to bid regulars farewell. Tom Roach, mayor of White Plains, will be holding a small farewell ceremony at the station for Waxman this morning. President of Metro-North Joseph Giuletti, who met Waxman when hosting a commuter forum at the station in April, was invited to attend.