U8: Alexanderplatz (1989)

After the Berlin Wall was built, stations in the East that served transit lines originating and ending in the West were closed off to prevent defection. People called them ghost stations.

Senior Sergeant Gerd Möller lit a cigarette and watched the subway train stop. The empty platform filled with people as schoolchildren waved to their friends and tourists stared at the signs directing them to the famous TV Tower next to Alexanderplatz, the station’s namesake. Footsteps echoed through the tiled tunnel and up the stairwells. As the train took off southward, the crowd on the platform faded, then vanished.

Underofficer Karl Bayer shivered, pallid under the fluorescent lights. “This happens every day?”

Möller drew on his cigarette and held it a moment before exhaling. “Most of them. Always between two scheduled U8 trains.”

“Have you told the commander?” He wiped a bead of sweat off his forehead, hiding it in a straightening of hair.

“Of course. He laughed at me, said I was imagining things. I never could get anyone else to report it.” Möller glanced at Bayer. Squared shoulders, polished boots, and a glint of enthusiasm in his new partner’s eyes gave the impression of a Mitarbeiter, sent to make sure the man who sees invisible Western trains wasn’t a dissident.

“What do you think it is?”

“The station.”

“Sir?”

“Alex is giving us glimpses of what might be. I think he’s lonely.” He drew on his cigarette again. At the rattle of the real U8 on the track, he stood straighter.

Bayer snapped to attention, rifle at the ready, and glared sideways at Möller.  When the train had passed, he said, “The station is lonely? Sir, that’s …”

“Superstitious nonsense and ghost stories? That’s what the commander said.” He shrugged. “I thought so, too, at first. Alexanderplatz isn’t the only place I’ve seen these, you know.” He paused a moment, to let Bayer cast a skeptical glance his way. When it didn’t come, he continued. “I first saw a ghost train when I was sitting in a guardhouse above the tracks. Night shift, so the trains were far between. Quarter after midnight, this train comes by, and I call my captain on the radio. He says there’s no train there. I spent the next day in confinement, learning not to drink on duty.” Möller snorted. “I saw them once a week or so while I was out there. Alex wasn’t always this active. Since Secretary Gorbachev introduced glasnost, he’s been showing me his dreams more often.”

Bayer’s eyebrows rose. “You’re talking as though the station is alive.”

“All the souls that pass through here every day, and you think it isn’t?” Möller took several steps away from Bayer and walked along the northbound tracks, scanning them up and down. Moments later, another ghost train pulled in, and people swarmed the platform, walking right through him. He spread his arms and touched a man’s shoulder as he walked past.

Words formed on Bayer’s lips, but they did not come. Fear flashed briefly before he fixed his façade. He stepped backward, dodging the ephemeral tourists. “Sir, don’t you …”

They vanished, and Möller turned to face him. “Imagine it, Bayer. Kaiser Wilhelm built this station over a hundred years ago! How many people have passed through this tunnel? Even today, thousands of people pass under Alex’s watchful eye.”

“But it’s only this platform that’s closed. The other two lines through here are fully open.” Bayer looked surprised that he’d made the argument and shook his head.

“True. He could be showing us scenes from the open tracks, as if to say the Wall we’ve built is nothing to him.” He sat on one of the benches, its varnish peeling with decades of disuse, and faced the opposite track while a train rumbled northward. “Or that it will be nothing.”

“Do you want the Wall to come down?” Neither Bayer’s face nor voice betrayed any emotion.

Möller twitched his lips, amused. “You want me to give the Stasi a reason to lock me up?”

“I’m not Stasi,” Bayer said smoothly.

Möller looked Bayer in the eyes. “You’d say that if you were. Want is a strong word. I think it’s going to, whether I have any desires either way. Read the newspapers: reform is coming. How Honecker handles it is his own problem.” He shrugged and crushed his cigarette butt under his boot. “I don’t concern myself much with politics; I’m no revolutionary. I just do my job and follow orders.”

“And imagine that a train station is alive.” Skepticism tinged Bayer’s voice, and his eyebrow lifted.

“You saw it, too. Do you have a better explanation?” A southbound train stopped and let out its passengers, the barren platform teeming with evanescent life.

Bayer shook his head. “There’s no rational reason for it, but if I stay here long enough, I might start to believe it myself.”

A sound like sighing came down the tracks, and the lights shone briefly brighter. “Alex is happy to hear that,” Möller said.


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2 Responses to U8: Alexanderplatz (1989)

  1. Kiwi says:

    That is a really powerful piece of writing. I could perfectly imagine the scene. 🙂 Well done and keep up the good work.

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