Monday, February 18, 2008

The Casual Sadism of the Berlin Hauptbahnhof

Berlin, Germany

What sadist designed the main Berlin train station?

The station, called the Hauptbahnhof, has one purpose: to terrify me and everyone else who is afraid of heights. The Hauptbahnhof is a chamber of horrors promising death by defenestration to anyone who slips on spilled cola.

The national rail lines are in the basement. I know this because there’s no ceiling over the lines; you can see the tracks from any of the station’s four floors. More to the point, you can go careening over the "railings” at any point and smash into the basement floor at terminal velocity, your brain matter spraying in a semicircle of pink goo. At least that’s what those of us with acrophobia think when we see a railing that’s lower than our center of gravity.

Gott help anyone connecting to the local S-Bahn trains in that widow maker of a building. The S-Bahn tracks are on the top floor (pictured), requiring a passenger to ride up three sets of escalators with a sheer drop on the side. On the S-Bahn level, you find yourself suspended on a platform that feels like it’s a hundred feet in the air.

In actuality, the station is designed so that the lower floors are staggered and would prevent you from falling all the way to the bottom. This makes no difference when you’re convinced that a massive earthquake could hit at any second and hurl you half way across the station. (Yes, I know that, in the event of an apocalyptic quake, it might be safer to ride down on a top floor rather than be crushed on a bottom floor. Facts will not interfere with a good irrational fear.)

Heights have been a problem for me in several Berlin buildings. The stairs in the CinemaxX in Potsdamer Platz (where many of the Berlin Film Festival screenings occur) are designed in such a manner that, when ascending, you cannot avoid noticing how high you are. The Cubix in Alexanderplatz is worse, a storey higher with low railings, an open atrium and glass elevators, with the edgiest films screening in Kino 9 on the top floor. And I avoid the Gleisdreieck, an U-Bahn transfer station built in the lower troposphere.

So, on behalf of my fellow sufferers: Floors, Deutsche Architekten, put in some damn floors. Especially you lot at von Gerkan, Marg + Partners, the dungeon masters behind the new Berlin Hauptbahnhof.

Note To Copy Editor Types: In Berlin usage, Alexanderplatz is one word and Posdamer Platz is two. I assume it's an East-West thing.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the warning. Are there any enclosed backstairs..? Did you check? Thinking of going to Berlin by train but I too hate heights. Am hopeless in big open plan shopping centres! Heard the station had 5 floors so thought I'd best Google it..

7:32 AM  

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