A 1980 version of the city's transit map, brought back to life.

Max Roberts usually spends his time bringing his own cartographic fantasies to life. But after a visit to Berlin's S-Bahn and U-Bahn museums, he decided to painstakingly recreate an actual subway map from scratch.

His inspiration? A postcard version of a rare Berlin S-Bahn map from 1980, one the transit enthusiast had never seen before. Calling it "one of the most powerful designs I have seen," Roberts took a photo and recreated it on his computer. The University of Essex psychology lecturer looks at the map as a symbol of an especially bleak period in the S-Bahn's history.

(Max Roberts)

Still a decade from reunification, the S-Bahn map shows a transit system filled with complicated politics. West Berlin S-Bahn lines were owned and operated by East Berlin, so West Berliners boycotted the GDR-owned service. Instead, they built their own roadway and U-Bahn line. That crippled the S-Bahn network financially, resulting in closed lines and a system that even today still struggles to keep up with demand. In a "last-ditch attempt to market a bankrupt network," Roberts hypothesizes, East Berlin created a map that highlighted its own lines in rainbow colors.

A design purist, Roberts ran into an unexpected typography issue on his project. What looked like Futura wasn't quite Futura. It turns out that the famous (and German-born) font was not available in the GDR. A modified version of it, designed by Arno Drescher was widely used by many state organizations, including the Berlin S-Bahn.

After finding a digital version of Drescher's almost-Futura and putting in two days of work, Robert's now has a final product he's quite happy with. He'd still like to consult a large version of the 1980 original just to make sure everything is exact, more importantly, he hopes the actual designer is still alive, saying in his monthly newsletter, "it would be fascinating to find out its story."  

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