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Riding Berlin’s U1 Line: The Oberbaumbrücke Train History Photos

June 13th, 2014

I’ve always said that my primary interest in railroads is not necessarily the machine that is a train, but instead the way railroad systems change over time, and how they influence the people and locations around them – or even how places influence the rails. For those with similar interests, the city of Berlin is a great case study. As I’m sure everyone is familiar, Germany and the city of Berlin were partitioned after World War II into areas occupied by the French, British, Americans, and Soviets. The Soviet portion became the German Democratic Republic, better known as East Germany, and the three other sectors the Federal Republic of Germany, better known as West Germany. In Berlin, a transit system that once spanned the entire city became truncated by this political divide. With the construction of the Berlin wall, starting in 1961, the city became truly divided.

Bernauer Straße
Ghost station: The U-Bahn station Bernauer Straße was closed after the construction of the Berlin Wall. Here you can see the entrance to the station, blocked by the wall. The station was reopened after the reunification of Germany. Photo taken August 27, 1962 by Allhails.

The citywide network of trains in Berlin struggled to conform to the divisions forced upon it by politics. In some instances, stations were completely closed, and lines were truncated as to not operate in the opposite sector. In other situations, lines were able to operate across the border, albeit with restrictions. The U8 line, for example, started in West Germany, but traversed a portion of East German territory before returning to the west. Although the train was permitted to pass through East Germany, they were not permitted to stop at the stations there. Shrouded in darkness and heavily guarded, these shuttered stations became colloquially known as “ghost stations.” In a unique situation, Friedrichstraße railway station, located in East German territory, was open to citizens from both sides of the border, though the station was divided into isolated sections for each.

U-Bahn U1 Map
Map showing the history of the U1 line, and the Berlin Wall.

It seems appropriate that our first photographic foray into Germany focuses on the first line of the U-Bahn, the U1. The U in U-Bahn stands for Untergrund, but there are many instances where the lines are anything but. One place that seems to epitomize the “not underground” Underground is the Oberbaumbrücke, or Oberbaum Bridge. First opened in 1896, the bridge carried pedestrians, cars, and eventually trains over the River Spree. The first train ran from Stralauer Tor, a station established on the viaduct, to Potsdamer Platz. Eventually the line was extended to Knie (now known as Ernst-Reuter-Platz) in the west, and Warschauer Brücke (now Warschauer Straße) in the east.

1895 bridge construction photo
1985 construction photo of the Oberbaum Bridge. Photo by German photographer Hermann Oskar Rückwardt.

Postcard of the bridge, circa 1910
Postcard showing the Oberbaum Bridge and the original Stralauer Tor station, circa 1910.

Warschauer brücke station, 1932
Looking out toward the bridge from Warschauer Brücke station, 1932. Photo via the Bundesarchiv.

The route of the line has stayed fairly consistent over the years, though Potsdamer Platz, Zoologischer Garten, and Ernst-Reuter-Platz are now part of the U2 line. Stralauer Tor station, which was on the bridge viaduct, was damaged during World War II and never rebuilt. After the partition of Germany, the Oberbaum Bridge connected the American sector with the Soviet sector, and the bridge became a border checkpoint, allowing West German pedestrians to cross. Beyond the border was Warschauer Brücke, the only station on the line located in East Berlin. For the duration that the Berlin Wall stood, the station was closed, truncating the line at the border. It was reopened in 1995 under the name of Warschauer Straße.

Progression of the Berlin Wall
Progression of the Berlin Wall, alongside the Oberbaum Bridge – Photo at left taken December, 1964 by Allhails. Photo at right from 1984 by WhitePrince.

The Oberbaum Bridge, 1993
The Oberbaum Bridge in rough shape in 1993. Photo by Roehrensee.

The Oberbaum Bridge itself is quite a beautiful bit of architecture, and is a fairly photogenic landmark. The name literally translates to “Upper tree bridge” in English, a reference to a previous wooden bridge that stood nearby. Despite being heavily damaged at multiple points through history, it was never completely demolished. During World War II the Nazis bombed the center of the bridge to prevent the Soviet army from crossing. Though the East Germans made minimal repairs to the the bridge after the war (at least enough for pedestrians to cross), it was not truly restored to its original grandeur until after the German reunification. Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava designed the steel center portion of the bridge, while the rest was restored much as it looked originally. The bridge was reopened for cars and pedestrians in 1994, and subway traffic in 1995.

Anyway, here is a collection of some photos of the U-Bahn and the Oberbaum Bridge. Over the next few weeks we’ll be visiting some more interesting spots in Berlin, including a few more “not underground” Underground stations.

The Oberbaum Bridge, Berlin
  
 
  
   
 
  
 

Taking a ride on Chernobyl’s “Radioactive Railroad” Train Photos

June 3rd, 2014

Over the past few months I’ve been working on a big project in secret… and today is finally the day that I get to present it to all of you. Most of you are aware that I was recently in Ukraine, but the real intent of my visit was to see the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. For many years I’ve wanted to write an article about the railroad that ran through the Exclusion Zone, half of which is now abandoned. I have finally fulfilled that goal.

Built by the Soviet military in 1927, the line connected the city of Ovruch in the west, to Chernihiv in the east, crossing the Pripyat, Dneiper, and Desna Rivers, and traversing a small portion of Belarus. The territory between the two cities was not especially valuable, nor heavily populated – yet railroad access could be useful from a military perspective, as railroads were considered the cheapest way to transport both soldiers and equipment.

Were it not for a chance event, the Ovruch to Chernihiv line could be operating in obscurity to this day. The chance event I’m mentioning, of course, is the Chernobyl disaster. This little rail line played a part in where the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic’s very first nuclear power pant would be built. Around sixteen sites were investigated as potential candidates, and one about 100 kilometers north of Kyiv fit the bill perfectly – it had a rail line with reliable train service, it had the nearby Pripyat River as a natural water source, and it had a lot of infertile land that could be taken over and turned into a cooling pond for the reactor.

If you’d like to read the entire story, which I’ve titled “Radioactive Railroad” – head over to the special site that I built, which can be found here:

RadioactiveRailroad.com

Here’s just a preview of some of the things you’ll find there – an abandoned city, a graveyard of trains too contaminated to use, a city rebuilt for the refugees of the disaster, and a little piece of the abandoned rail line that still operates…

The story of the radioactive railroad

The story of the radioactive railroad

The story of the radioactive railroad

The story of the radioactive railroad

The story of the radioactive railroad

Read the full story: RadioactiveRailroad.com

A Visit to Kyiv, Ukraine, and a ride on the Funicular History Photos

May 21st, 2014

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, most likely you’ve heard at least a little bit of the recent news about Ukraine. Over the past year there have been protests, government-hired snipers to kill said protesters, a corrupt president that fled after the fallout of that decision, and land grabs by Russia. Although some volatile areas remain in the east of the country, some alarmists would have you believe that tanks are rolling down the streets of Kyiv[1] today, or that neo-Nazis have taken over the government, both of which are pure fiction. Admittedly, Kyiv is extremely dangerous, but only because it is so darn beautiful you may just fall in love and never want to come home. The architecture that one finds in the city is undeniably gorgeous. And one need not be a religious person to be in awe of the many magnificent churches and cathedrals in all parts of the city.

  
 
 
Scenes from Kyiv – Saint Volodymyr’s Cathedral, Saint Andrew’s Church, and views from the Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square).

I figured it might be enjoyable to take a little tour of Kyiv, and some of the beautiful sights within. For railfans there are plenty of interesting places to check out, including the city’s Metro system, and an interesting main train station.

  
 
 
The Kyiv Metro, and Sunset, night, and morning views of Kyiv’s main train station.

As we meander around the beautiful spots in Kyiv, it is worth stopping at the city’s funicular. For those that spend their hours chasing interesting railroads across the world, a simple funicular isn’t really the most interesting of subjects. The Kyiv funicular does has a little bit of interesting history to go along with it, however. Kyiv is a very hilly city, which is one of the reasons why its Metro is so deep. But long before the Metro was ever conceived, the transportation solution was solved by this funicular, where instead of making an arduous uphill climb, passengers could just ride up to the top.

Postcards and tokens from the Kyiv Funicular
Postcards and tokens of the Kyiv Funicular. Neither the Metro nor the Funicular use coin tokens today, tokens are made of plastic. Postcards from Old Kiev.

A grandiose plan by the Soviets to replace St. Michael's cathedral and the funicular
A grandiose plan by the Soviets to replace St. Michael's cathedral and the funicular. Other proposals included the destruction of other nearby monuments like the St. Sophia Cathedral and the monument to Bohdan Khmelnytsky. Pictured design by Soviet architect Ivan Fomin, image via the KyivPost.

Constructed between 1902 and 1905, the funicular was opened to the public on May 7th, 1905. Because the upper station was located right behind St. Michael’s Cathedral, it was referred to as St. Michael’s Mechanical Lift. That cathedral has a long history – having been commissioned in 1108 – but was demolished by the Soviets in the 1930s. The idea was to demolish the church and instead use the land for grandiose government buildings. However, at the time of destruction, no concrete plans had been agreed upon. Most concepts for filling the space revolved around the idea of massive statues of Lenin, Stalin, or both. One called for a grand staircase extending down the hill to the banks of the Dneiper River – a plan that would have likely required the destruction of the funicular as well.

  
 
  
 
  
Photos of St Michael’s Golden Domed Monastery, a modern replica of the historical cathedral that was on this site, which was destroyed by the Soviets.

Due to the onset of World War II, the plans for the government building on the site of the former cathedral never came to fruition. After Ukrainian independence in 1991, a replica of the original cathedral was rebuilt on the site, completed in 1998. Meanwhile, the funicular was never demolished and still operates to this day. In 1958 it received mechanical upgrades, and in 1984 the stations were updated. Both the upper and lower stations have attractive stained glass paneling.

Today the Kyiv funicular serves around 13,200 passengers a day, including many tourists. The ride takes around 3 minutes, and the fare is 1.50 hryvnia, or around 13 cents (US). It isn’t hard to find the funicular, just look for the signs that say “фунікулер” which is simply the word “funicular” transliterated into Cyrillic. Each of the two funicular cars are split into several sections and allow passengers to sit or stand, with a capacity of around a hundred people. For the truly adventurous, visit Kyiv in the winter, where the city’s snow-covered streets are perfect for skiing and snowboarding – and the funicular functions as a perfect ski lift.

  
 
  
 
  
   
  
   
  

As a final send-off to complete our visit to Kyiv, enjoy the following sunset time lapse I recorded from my hotel room overlooking the Maidan Nezalezhnosti, or Independence Square.
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  1. The more familiar Kiev is transliterated from the Russian Киев. Київ, written as Kyiv in English, is properly derived from the Ukrainian language. []

A Railroad Journey to Ukraine: Chernihiv Train History Photos

May 14th, 2014

Roughly a hundred miles north of Ukraine’s capital Kyiv is the city of Chernihiv. Chernihiv has quite a long history, dating back to the medieval times, and it is also home to Ukraine’s oldest church. In terms of railroads, the first station in Chernihiv was established in 1893, part of a narrow-gauge branch line of the Moscow-Kiev-Voronezh Railway. Passengers were carried into the city proper by horses until the 1920s when a bridge over the Desna River was constructed, allowing trains into the main part of the city, where a new station was constructed. By 1928 there were connections from Chernihiv to Gomel, in present-day Belarus, to the city of Ovruch in Ukraine, and to Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv.

The Chernihiv – Ovruch line was a relatively unimportant one, primarily constructed for military purposes, but in the most coincidental sense had drastic effects on the Soviet Union and the world. The rail line played a part in the decision of where to locate Ukraine’s very first nuclear power plant, a place the world knows as Chernobyl (Chornobyl would be the proper Ukrainian transliteration). Since the nuclear reactor explosion in 1986, a portion of that rail line was abandoned – a story I’m hoping to flesh out over several posts in the coming weeks.

Train from Slavutych arrives at Chernihiv
Train from Slavutych arrives at Chernihiv. Slavutych is the “replacement” city for those that worked at the Chernobyl plant, constructed after the disaster. The rail line again played a part in the location of this place.

The station that one finds in Chernihiv now was built in 1950. The previous station at that location was destroyed during World War II, or as it is known in former Soviet locales, the Great Patriotic War. Chernihiv was occupied by Nazi forces from 1941 to 1943, and the retreating Soviet army practiced a scorched Earth policy, which included the destruction of railroad infrastructure. The station was destroyed at some point in 1941, either by Nazi bombardment, or by the retreating Soviets themselves to prevent the Nazis from getting any use out of it. The station was rebuilt in 1950, using the labor of German POWs. The attractive design comes from Ukrainian Soviet architect Gennady Ivanovich Granatkin, who is responsible for the designs of several stations throughout the Soviet Union, in today’s Belarus, Moldova, Russia, and Ukraine.

Old paint scheme of Chernihiv station

Old paint scheme of Chernihiv station
Old paint scheme of the station, it was repainted to a solid reddish orange around 2003. Photos circa 1970s.

Over the years, several modifications have been made to the station at Chernihiv, primarily being the scheme in which it is painted. Originally red and green, the station is now a solid reddish orange after renovations in 1999 and 2003. While sculptural elements featuring the Soviet hammer and sickle have been left intact, more current coats of arms have been added to the front and back. The city’s 1992-established coat of arms – a black eagle with a crown and cross – can be found on both sides, and the coat of arms of Ukraine is visible on the back side of the building. The station is generally regarded as one of the more beautiful stations in all of Ukraine, and is certainly one of my favorites.

Diagram of Chernihiv station
Map diagram of the station in Chernihiv, showing the building’s old red and green paint scheme. The line listed above the station is the remnants of the Chernihiv – Ovruch line – trains from Chernihiv go no further west than Iolcha since the Chernobyl disaster. The 20 kilometer branch line extending from Zhukotky (on the top left of the diagram) to Zhidinichi was closed in 2006 and dismantled around 2008. View translation of Cyrillic station names.

Today one can board long-distance trains at Chernihiv for destinations like Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Minsk, and Odessa. Despite being roughly forty miles south of the border, the station serves as a border control point for trains arriving from neighboring Belarus. Two commuter operations, one to the city of Nizhin, and another to Iolcha on the former line to Ovruch, also operate from Chernihiv. Though a portion of the aforementioned line was abandoned after the Chernobyl disaster, it is still possible to take a train to the Chernobyl plant, although not directly from Chernihiv. Several daily trains operate from Slavutych to Semikhody, which is adjacent to the Chernobyl plant – though that is a story for another day.

 
 
   
  
   
 
  
   
  
 
  
   
 

The Mansions that the Railroad Built, Part 3: The Breakers History Photos

April 23rd, 2014

Several years ago I toured some of the mansions of Newport, Rhode Island – the place where anyone who was anyone had a summer “cottage” in the waning years of the 1800s. The very wealthy heirs of New York Central railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt, were of course, no exception. William Kissam Vanderbilt had a mansion in Newport called Marble House, and his elder brother Cornelius II had The Breakers. While Marble House is remarkably lavish, it lacks the typical Vanderbilt aesthetic that one would find elsewhere – mostly because the home was designed for and by William’s wife Alva. The Breakers, on the other hand, has many of the obvious symbols representing both transportation and the Vanderbilts – the caduceus, acorns, and oak leaves.

Sketch of the gates for The Breakers
Sketch by architect Richard Morris Hunt of the gates for The Breakers

Cornelius Vanderbilt II bought the property on which the Breakers sits in 1885. The house on the property was wooden, and burned down in 1892. After that fire, Vanderbilt commissioned Richard Morris Hunt to design a new summer home. Designed to resemble the palaces of Italy, the home had a total of 70 rooms and five floors. The Breakers is certainly one of the most extravagant homes in Newport, a symbol of the Gilded Age, and a representation of the fortunes amassed by the railroad barons of the United States.

The Breakers
The Breakers
1895 photos of The Breakers from the Library of Congress.

Despite my visit several years ago, I never managed to post the photos, for some reason. So here are some photos from The Breakers. If you missed parts one and two in the series, you can also find them here:

The Mansions that the Railroad Built, Part 2: Hyde Park
The Mansions that the Railroad Built, Part 1: Marble House

  
 
  
   
  
 
  
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
Rhode Island Mansion, The Breakers

For the next three weeks, this blog will be on a temporary hiatus as I am traveling in eastern Europe. I will likely be checking in on social media, so be sure to follow I Ride the Harlem Line on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.