Tiles at Berlin's Paulsternstrasse Station
Tiles at Berlin's Paulsternstrasse Station Ingolf/Twitter

They’re cheerful, witty, and a little bizarre.

Today, seven of the oddest-looking subway stations in Europe are getting an unlikely accolade: They’re being listed as historic monuments for the first time.

The seven stations are all located in western Berlin, part of a city subway network where preservation orders are far from unheard of—with good reason, given their frequent beauty. What’s striking about today’s plans is just how new the stations are. They all date to that bygone golden age for Europe’s architectural heritage, the years 1980 to 1984. The seven newly protected stations are in one of the last sections of the subway system to be constructed exclusively within West Berlin, extending the network into Spandau, a suburban town still sitting within the confines of the Berlin Wall.

Ancient Egypt Meets Frtiz Lang’s Metropolis: the station at Rathaus Spandau. (Ingolf/Flickr)

Granting monument status to something so recently built might seem like the architectural equivalent of treating a Betamax video machine as if it were Leonardo’s prototype for the helicopter, but these stations are unquestionably distinctive and delightful.

Designed by architect Rainer G. Rummler, the stations are postmodernist affairs, their brightly colored tiles, pillars, and occasional splashes of shining metal making clear reference to the late 19th century Vienna Secession. There are art deco-ish dark green and gold accents here, a few ancient Egyptian capitals there, while the bold color schemes are part Gustav Klimt, part psychedelic album cover. Cheerful without being sugary, they are a notable bright spot in an often grey city. As an architect whose work is experienced  daily by thousands of Berliners, but rarely discussed, Rummler could actually be one of the great unsung heroes of partitioned West Berlin.

Palm-tree like column vaulting at newly protected Altstadt Spandau Station. (Ingolf/Flickr)

Rummler’s designs don’t just sparkle, they have a certain wit to them. Indeed, he deserves credit for giving his underground stations some connection to their above-ground locations. The newly protected station at Rohrdamm, for example, has a decorative scheme of cogs and pulleys and exposed ceiling girders that allude to the factories nearby.

Rohrdamm U-Bahn Station. (Ingolf/Flickr)

At the Zitadelle U-Bahn stop, meanwhile, Rummler went all-out to evoke the nearby renaissance-era Spandau Citadel, creating exposed brick platforms and a grand, castle-like entrance. Looking at the photo below, it’s almost tempting to assume (falsely and anachronistically) that he had the neighboring branch of Toys ”R” Us in mind too.

Zitadelle U-Bahn Station. (A.Savin/Wikimedia)

When there were no obvious local references to guide a station’s style, however, Rummler truly went to town. Paulsternstrasse Station, for example, is in a bit of a no-man’s land with no obvious landmarks nearby. Lacking local sources to draw from, Rummler got especially creative. His design was inspired by imagining the trees, flowers and stars that might have been visible on a carriage ride between Berlin and Spandau 200 years previously, when the inn of a certain Paul Stern, after which the street was named, was serving travellers. The result is charming, odd, and more than a little trippy.

Paulsternstrasse U-Bahn station, whose design is supposed to represent a sort of psychedelic 18th century carriage ride. (Ingolf/Flickr.)

The seven newly protected stations aren’t the only late 20th century U-Bahn stops to gain monument status this year. In January, Rummler’s 1971 Fehrbelliner Platz Station was also listed, its red and green curves making it look a bit like an old gas station built out of Lego blocks.

The entrance hall to Rummler’s 1971 station at Fehrbelliner Platz, listed as a monument in January. (Axel.Mauruszat/Wikimedia)

Schlossstrasse U-Bahn was also listed; the greatest save here was not necessarily the station itself, but the bizarre, much-loved tower above it, which houses a cafe/restaurant. This tower is always referred to as the Bierpinsel—or Beer Brush—because it’s roughly in the shape of a shaving brush and was built to serve beer.

The Beer Brush, showing a recent colourful paint job. (A.Savin/Wikimedia)

There’s probably no postwar structure in Berlin that’s sillier, more unlikely, and more instantly likeable than the Beer Brush. Obtrusive and essentially functionless, it’s nonetheless a reminder that Europe’s postwar architecture often strays far from its reputation for concrete uniformity. Likewise, Rummler’s newly protected stations show that vital infrastructure can give pleasure, and even be frivolous. Both represent a bright spot of fantasy during a period when Berlin became synonymous with grim political realities. That alone makes them worth preserving.

About the Author

Feargus O'Sullivan
Feargus O'Sullivan

Feargus O'Sullivan is a London-based contributing writer to CityLab, with a focus on Europe.

Most Popular

  1. Life

    When Artificial Intelligence Rules the City

    An expert panel ponders how AI will change our lives.

  2. Design

    The Military Declares War on Sprawl

    The Pentagon thinks better designed, more walkable bases can help curb obesity and improve troops’ fitness.

  3. Equity

    The Poverty Just Over the Hills From Silicon Valley

    The South Coast, a 30-mile drive from Palo Alto, is facing an affordable-housing shortage that is jeopardizing its agricultural heritage.

  4. The price of bananas is displayed on a digital price tag at a 365 by Whole Foods Market grocery store.
    How To

    The Past and Future of Urban Grocery Shopping

    In his new book, Michael Ruhlman charts the overlap of food, commerce, and identity.

  5. Life

    Where Are America's Real Arts Capitals?

    Big coastal cities might have iconic, profitable, and well-funded scenes. But the economic impact of the cultural sector can be larger in some surprising places.