The seed for this story was planted when I was in Berlin for Christmas 2007. We took a walking tour of the city, and I was talking with the tour guide, whose concentration at university was the Cold War, about the divided city. He said, “You should go to the Wall Memorial and pick up some information about the Geisterbahnhöfe.” I’d never heard of them before, so I asked him to explain further.
When the Wall was built, the city wasn’t divided only on the surface. There were lines that went from north to south, which started and ended in the West, but went through the East. The division wasn’t a straight line; it bumped out around Mitte. The West Berlin transit maps included the East Berlin stations, but marked them as “unreachable by BVG trains” and noted “stations at which the trains do not stop.”
The latter were the ghost stations. Their entrances were sealed off, and guards stood on the platforms to make sure no one tried to escape East Berlin through the train tunnels. The trains weren’t permitted to stop, because the East Berliners could hop on a train bound for the West and not return. The BVG, however, staged a sort of protest to this by slowing the trains in front of the closed platforms.
When the Wall came down, the stations that had lain in disuse for 30 years were unusable. The rails were poorly maintained (which the BVG had trouble with during the division), and, aside from being bricked off and sealed up, the plaster on the walls was crumbling. Here’s a video someone took of a tour through the S-bahn station at Potsdamer Platz in November 1989. Berliner Unterwelten runs tours of the train tunnels, bomb shelters, and assorted Cold War remnants.
Naturally, all of these things came together to become a story about two East German border guards who were assigned to watch the U8 platform at Alexanderplatz, one of whom sees ghost trains that stop and let their passengers out…
“U8: Alexanderplatz (1989)” is published in Retro Spec, edited by Karen Romanko.