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Save Berlin: The rust is history

Dan Borden on the Ostkreuz station’s transformation from “Rostkreuz” into the sterile transit hub of tomorrow.

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Photo by Maria Runarsdottir

Dan Borden on the Ostkreuz station’s transformation from “Rostkreuz” into the sterile transit hub of tomorrow.

Bulldozers have been slowly eating away one of Friedrichshain’s most recognis able landmarks, the 125-year-old railway overpass that’s served as the triumphal entry into Ostkreuz station. Its demise is the latest phase in Deutsche Bahn’s radical makeover, started in 2006. Generations of Berliners passed under the iron bridge, one of many decaying features that earned the station its nickname “Rostkreuz”. But one man’s rust is another’s patina of age, and old-timers mourn the loss of the station’s Victorian charm: cobblestone plat forms, coal-smudged brickwork, corroded fuse boxes screwed to filigreed cast-iron columns. To make things worse, DB replaced this steampunk wet dream with a giant pre-fab garden shed.

There’s been an S-Bahn station here since the Ringbahn was created in 1882, but the grand title of Ostkreuz (“East Crossing”) was a gift from the Nazis. Under Hitler’s master plan for Berlin, the lowly rail crossing would expand into a sprawling east side transit hub. Now the folks at DB are turning Hitler’s vision into reality. Rostkreuz is no more. The expanded, high-tech Ostkreuz will connect the S-Bahn, Ringbahn, regional trains, trams and maybe even the U1.

The heart of Deutsche Bahn’s modernisation is the upper-level train shed, a glass-and-steel box on concrete legs. If nothing else, it’s rust-proof. It’s also enormous, four times as wide as the old upper-level platform. Why so big? For all those new train lines? No, it serves only the Ringbahn, like the old station. The regional train platform is stuck on the side, an after thought. The east-west S-Bahn riders wait under the shed’s concrete belly, a bleak facsimile of a highway overpass. The true guest of honour in the new Ostkreuz isn’t you or me – it’s Mc- Donald’s. The rail station is modelled on 21st-century airports: passengers are forced to walk a maximum distance through an obstacle course of fast food and newspaper stands.

The market for those shops is exploding. The number of passengers, currently 100,000 a day, could double as these new lines turn Ostkreuz into a veritable transport octopus:

Airport express: Last December, regional trains began stopping at Ostkreuz, bringing a projected 30,000 new riders through the station. The service includes a new express between Gesundbrunnen and Schönefeld Airport (and perhaps, one day, the new BER airport).

A streetcar named Sonntag: The route of the M21 tram will be extended 1.8km, bringing it into Ostkreuz via Sonntagstraße. Residents complain that the teeth-rattling trams will transform their narrow street – and steal 90 parking spaces.

Extra U1?: The U1 underground line wants to crash the Ostkreuz party. Instead of ending at its historic Warschauer Straße terminus, BVG officials propose sending trains over the neighbouring S-Bahn station, then east to Ostkreuz with a new intermediate stop at Modersohnbrücke.

Lost highway: This tangle of transit lines leaves no room for the A100, the new highway extension slated to run past Ostkreuz. Planners say the only option is to drive the road underground via a tunnel from the Spree River to Frankfurter Allee. With the kick-off date still a decade away, the enormous cost could scuttle this tunnel and kill the despised roadway project once and for all.

Two iconic pieces of the old Ostkreuz will survive Deutsche Bahn’s renovation, though just barely. That odd brick-and-stucco house next to the station was built in 1910 to house railway officials. DB wants it gone, but Berlin’s landmarks commission wants it restored. Now protected under court-ordered scaffolding, the house likely faces a future worse than death: gutted, modernised and draped in green Starbucks awnings. And last year, DB sold the giant phallus-shaped water tower south of Ostkreuz to developer Uwe Fabich, who plans to convert it into an event location like his Postbahnhof and Funkhaus. He insists he won’t alter the sleek, purple tile exterior – except for the new windows, disco lights and an external fire stair.

Landscape architects Planorama won a competition to design a new entry forecourt for Ostkreuz. They replaced that iconic bridge-gateway with… nothing. Their design is – like the new station – slick, durable and devoid of character.

We can’t bring back the rust, but the old Ostkreuz lives on in Laura Geiger and Tom Kretschmer’s 2007 video portrait. See the nine-minute film at www.ostkreuzfilm.de.