Ende der Verkehrsmisere – Die Siemensbahn wird eröffnet

The end of a traffic nightmare 

 The Siemensbahn opens

On December 13, 1929, Siemens and the Deutsche Reichsbahn presented the new Berlin Siemensbahn to the public; official operation began five days later. The trip on the 4.7-kilometer route from the Jungfernheide light rail station to Gartenfeld via the Wernerwerk and Siemensstadt stations took less than ten minutes, and during rush hours the trains ran every five minutes. The popular and trade press sang the praises of the new route that closed the gap between the Ringbahn and Siemensstadt, a part of Spandau, yet for four decades now the line has led a sad existence, and counts as one of the capital’s most famous “abandoned places.” Still, the “new Siemensstadt” project is expected to change all that in the near future.             

Chaos at rush hour – High time to do something about it 

Statistics show that Siemensstadt had 55,000 workers in 1927. But few of them lived near the factories, administrative buildings and research facilities and thus enjoyed short commutes. Most of the workforce had to rely on public transportation. There was no direct light rail connection to this industrial and residential area – the only approaches were approximate, for example through the suburban Fürstenbrunn and Spandau West stations, or the Westend and Jungfernheide stations on the cross-city and Ringbahn routes. According to internal company surveys, most employees came from the areas north and northwest of the city, and aimed for the Jungfernheide station. From there, they rode the trams – hopelessly overcrowded during the commute – that ran along Nonnendammallee toward Spandau Altstadt. Three lines were available. The oldest and best known was the Nonnendammbahn, which went into operation on October 1, 1908, and for a time significantly improved Siemensstadt’s transportation connections. Though its original terminus was at the intersection of Nonnendammallee and Reisstrasse, the line began service as far as the Jungfernheide station on January 21, 1918.

Mornings and evenings, rider volume on the Nonnendammbahn is very heavy, so that quite often trams with three cars are needed to handle the crush of passengers, and the cars are frequently filled to the last space. 
Anzeiger für das Havelland, 1910

By 1917 the yawning gap between the available capacity of public transportation and the transportation needs of the constantly growing Siemens staff had even come up for debate in the Reichstag, and conditions on the tram cars especially were getting downright chaotic. To ease the commuter crush, the company decided in the early 1920s to introduce staggered work hours. In the winter of 1921/22, the difference between the earliest and the latest start of work was one hour and forty minutes; by 1929 it had grown to two and a half hours, not least of all because of the opening of the Schaltwerk high-rise and the associated increase in the workforce to more than 60,000. The tram lines could no longer handle the volume. In the winter of 1928/1929 they could carry barely 19,000 people for the morning commute, and since they were sometimes already running up to 65 trains per hour, there could be no question of increasing service frequency any further. The situation had reached “maximum train,” and it was high time to end the commuting nightmare.

Setting a new course –  Siemens and Deutsche Reichsbahn find a way

There had been a variety of suggestions since the 1910s about how to improve the transportation connections to Siemensstadt. One idea was to extend an existing subway line northwest from the station at Wilhelmplatz (now Richard-Wagner-Platz); another was to build a new subway line from Treptow or Neukölln to Siemensstadt by way of Moabit. Yet another was to connect the Fürstenbrunn suburban station to the Ringbahn. But all options were off the table during World War I and the era of inflation that followed. Finally, in the mid-1920s, Siemens took the initiative, and joined with Deutsche Reichsbahn (DR) to build an electric-powered branch line taking off to Gartenfeld from the Ringbahn’s Jungfernheide station. An extension of the route to Spandau Nord or Hennigsdorf was contemplated from the very start. The contract between the Reichsbahn and Siemens was finally signed on April 30, 1927. Among other terms, it provided that Siemens would finance the project and carry it out under the Reichsbahn’s supervision. 

Construction will be managed, in concert with the Reichsbahn, by S&H’s construction department and SSW; the electrical equipment and superstructure will be provided by SSW’s railways department and its power plants and factory trains department, and most of the civil engineering work will be done by Siemens-Bauunion.
Siemens-Mitteilungen, 12/1927 – 01/1928

Across the Spree twice and then a big curve to Siemensstadt – The route is planned 

In deciding the route and actually performing the work on the project, so many practical and technical circumstances and aspects had to be taken into account that coordinating all the details delayed the start of construction until 1928. The track layout at the Jungfernheide station also included main-line tracks, and Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe (BVG), the company in charge of most other forms of the city’s public transportation, still needed to have a way to connect the area between Charlottenburg and Altstadt Spandau to the subway network. Plus, the waterways engineering administration had plans to rechannel the Spree, and those could not be frustrated. To the mixture was further added the company’s own efforts to avoid interfering with in-house transportation within the Siemens factories, and to keep the noise nuisance to adjacent residential areas as low as possible.

 

At the Jungfernheide station, the Siemensbahn branched off from the cross-city system and the Ringbahn to cross Tegeler Weg and the Spree on a one-track bridge, then ran along an embankment between the Ringbahn tracks before passing under a Ringbahn track and crossing the Spree again on an ironwork bridge 130 meters long. After that bridge, the Siemensbahn ran for 800 meters elevated on a viaduct that ran by way of the Wernerwerk station to what today is Popitzweg. Then, following an embankment and crossing streets on bridges, the route ran onward to the Rohrdamm and the Siemensstadt station, from which passengers could reach the Administration Building and walk to other destinations like the Dynamowerk and the Schaltwerk. At the Rohrdamm, the Siemensbahn gradually descended to street level and headed straight for the Gartenfeld station on the Spandau shipping canal; that was designed to be the terminus.

Aesthetically sophisticated – Characteristic colors for bridges and railway stations 

As an allusion to the nickname of the Loschwitz bridge in Dresden, the Siemens-Mitteilungen called the route “the Blue Wonder of Siemensstadt“ – and it wasn’t wrong, because the bridges and the viaduct were painted an assertive dark blue. The various stations added further color accents by painting their boarding platforms and canopies different colors: green at Jungfernheide, light blue at Wernerwerk, red at Siemensstadt and yellow at Gartenfeld. If we are to believe the press reports, the color concept came from the head of the Siemens construction department, Hans Hertlein.

The artful buildings of the Siemensbahn all maintain unpretentious, simple forms. Both the designs, which meet operating needs in a natural yet tasteful manner, and the sensitive handling of all employed materials, work together to lend the structures an extremely pleasing appearance.”
Illustrierte Technik für Jedermann, 1930

Perfectly coordinated – Power supply, signaling systems, technical systems 

To power the branch line, the company built a rectifier substation next to the Siemensstadt rail station to convert the AC current coming from the Halensee switching substation to DC.

 

Siemens also supplied and installed all electrical components needed for the route, as well as the telephone system and clock network. The line sections, track switches and signaling systems were controlled from new signal towers at the Jungfernheide and Gartenfeld stations, and a “trackless signaling board” made it easier to monitor operations.

 

 

A big station in Siemensstadt – The Siemensbahn is inaugurated 

On the morning of December 13, 1929, some 400 representatives of government and the press gathered in the atrium of the Administration Building to attend the inauguration of the Siemensbahn. The head of the “House of Siemens,” Carl Friedrich von Siemens, got the crowd into the proper mood for the occasion with an entertaining speech, but voiced his amazement that the “opening of a small appendix-like rail line … whose inclusion expands Deutsche Reichsbahn’s network by 1/10,000” should meet with such great interest in view of “the plethora of important events of the present day and its problems.” Under the circumstances, he said, he would have considered it more appropriate “to open the new station’s gates some morning with no noise or fanfare, and ask the Reichsbahn to please now start running some trains.” 

However, we may hope not only to have gained a significant advantage for our workforce by creating this rail line, but also that it will serve to help develop the entire area and this part of the city further. 
Carl Friedrich von Siemens, 1929

Other speakers were Hans Hertlein, the head of the company’s construction department, who explained technical details of the new line, and Julius Dorpmüller, General Director of Deutsche Reichsbahn, who thanked Siemens for this generous Christmas present; after all, he said, his company had had to pay only three million reichsmarks to take over a line that had cost 14 million. One of the press representatives in attendance turned that fact into a headline: “A princely Christmas present. Siemens gives the Reichsbahn a railroad.”

 

The trial run followed the speeches, and went from Siemensstadt to Jungfernheide and onward to Gartenfeld, including a tour of the four stations.

Official service began five days later on December 18, 1929. 

Next stop Wernerwerk, Siemensstadt, Gartenfeld

The “workers’ train in Berlin NW,” as the Social Democratic daily Der Vorwärts dubbed the Siemensbahn, operated back and forth between Jungfernheide and Gartenfeld. On workdays, trains ran every 20 minutes outside commute hours; during the commute they ran every ten minutes, and during rush hours that pace was cut in half by diverting “regular” light rail trains to Gartenfeld by way of the Jungfernheide station. These light rail trains made it possible to reach Siemensstadt directly, without transfers, from four stations: Weissensee (now Greifswalder Strasse), Tempelhof, Papestrasse (now Südkreuz) and Grünau. On Sundays, trains normally ran every 20 minutes. There were no trains between 1:00 and 5:00 in the morning. But just incidentally, the signaling equipment Siemens had installed could even have handled trains running every 2½ minutes. 

Everyone gets out at the Wernerwerk, Siemensstadt, Gartenfeld stations …; a swarm of people pours out onto streets and bridges, and shortly disappears behind the opened factory gates.
Der Anschluss. Zeitschrift für den Elektrohandel, 1931

The new route was very popular right from the start – not just among Siemens staff during the week, but among weekend excursionists, who took the line out to explore Jungfernheide and the Tegel Forest. Left in the lurch was the Nonnendammbahn, which lost more than half its ridership in just a short time. Just before the Siemensbahn went into operation, it had been carrying around 12,000 passengers a day. By the beginning of 1930 – not least of all because of a rise in ticket prices on the Berlin trams – it was carrying only around 8,000 to 9,000. Yet in later years, the Nonnendammbahn would make streetcar history. It was the first tram line to resume operation in Berlin after World War II. As early as September 1945 it was again running along its old main route from Spandauer Markt to Reisstrasse. And it was the last tram line in West Berlin to cease operations during the era of the Wall. It began its last run in Hakenfelde at 10:27 the morning of October 2, 1967. 

A short route with a big impact – And an enormous response in the media  

It’s surprising that not only the popular and trade press in Berlin, but newspapers from Dresden, Leipzig and Düsseldorf gave such unusual attention to this local event – especially because of the “circumstances” Carl Friedrich von Siemens mentioned: the problems that were plaguing large segments of the population. The global economic crisis had spread to the city’s 4.3 million inhabitants. Employment was plunging week after week because of mass layoffs, while the cost of living soared. Hundreds of thousands were facing the risk of poverty and immiseration. On top of that, the whole city was abuzz with a corruption scandal that was currently before the courts. In retrospect this was the biggest corruption affair of the Weimar era, and massively shook the Berliners’ trust in their government. It had consequences for the outcome of the municipal elections of November 1929: they brought the Nazi party into the city’s assembly for the first time. In times like these, the startup of the Siemensbahn, which saved time and improved convenience for tens of thousands of riders, injected an element of normality into an otherwise uncertain day-to-day existence.

The situation after WWII – Siemensbahn gradually fully restored

Siemensbahn service suffered repeated disruptions during World War II. By the end of the war, the northern abutment of the bridge across the Spree below the Wernerdamm station was destroyed, and the viaduct and embankments had suffered damage. Still worse, in the summer of 1945 Soviet troops dismantled large segments of track. Nevertheless, service was already able to resume by that September, albeit with considerable limitations. The second bridge over the Spree was unusable, so the route took a one-track temporary bridge. During commute hours, a train shuttled between Jungfernheide and Gartenfeld every 20 minutes; the rest of the time, one train ran every hour. When a second shuttle train came on line early in February 1946, the Siemensstadt station served as a transfer station. By 1954 the work to build a new bridge across the Spree was finished, so that shuttle operation every 15 minutes became possible along the route, though passengers still had to transfer at Siemensstadt. Once a second track was laid along the route, through service from Jungfernheide to Gartenfeld resumed on December 3, 1956. 

Stuck on a siding – Consequences of the political division of Berlin

Berlin light railways were traditionally operated by the Reichsbahn, while Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe (BVG) had charge of trams, subways and buses. In August 1949, in deferral to political developments, BVG was divided into a BVG East and a BVG West, but the Reichsbahn in the Soviet Occupation Zone, later the German Democratic Republic, still managed operations of the light rail and regular railway systems in both East and West Berlin. The momentous events of August 13, 1961, changed nothing about this status quo. Four days after the borders between East and West Berlin were closed, the West Berlin Senate and the Deutsche Gewerkschaftsbund (DBG), a union federation, called upon the residents of West Berlin to boycott the light rail system – and they succeeded. That also affected the Siemensbahn, so that gradually the time between trains lengthened and the number of cars in the trains themselves shrank.

 

Before the Wall went up, the “appendix-like rail line” had carried some 17,000 riders a day on work days; by 1972 the figure was over 75 percent less. By the autumn of 1976 the line’s workday ridership was only around 2,000. A ten-day strike in September 1980 by the West Berliners working for the East German Reichsbahn sealed the Siemensbahn’s fate. Operations would not resume.

 

But that did not interfere with transportation to Siemensstadt, because a few days later the district was connected to the West Berlin subway network. The U7 line’s segment from Richard-Wagner-Platz to Rohrdamm, with stops including Jungfernheide and Siemensstadt, went into operation on October 1, 1980, and the extension to Rathaus Spandau was finished exactly four years later to the day.

 

The Reichsbahn strike also put an end to city-train and Ringbahn operations at the Jungfernheide train station; by this time only Platforms A and B were left, since Platform C, once built specially for the Siemensbahn, had been torn down as part of the work on the U7. After the Wall fell on November 9, 1989, restoring Berlin’s light rail ring was one of the reunited city’s highest-priority transportation projects. Since April 15, 1997, the Ringbahn has again been stopping at the Jungfernheide station, with the possibility of transferring to the U7, which in its turn reaches the Siemensdamm station in five minutes and the Rohrdamm station a minute later.  

A secure future – From “abandoned place” to U7 alternative 

In 2019, in a funding agreement, the State of Berlin and Deutsche Bahn agreed on the first advance planning work for reactivating the Siemensbahn. One goal of this outstanding infrastructure measure is to connect the Siemensbahn to public transportation – meaning, for the second time, to the Ringbahn at the Jungfernheide station. The project includes not only laying new track but installing switches and signaling equipment, modernizing the viaduct (now protected as a historical monument), and restoring operations at the Wernerwerk, Siemensstadt and Gartenfeld stations. Plans also call for building two new bridges. A feasibility study is now investigating whether the route can be extended beyond the Gartenfeld station – just as had been considered over 90 years ago. 

Dr. Claudia Salchow