Feargus O'Sullivan is a contributing writer to CityLab, covering Europe. His writing focuses on housing, gentrification and social change, infrastructure, urban policy, and national cultures. He has previously contributed to The Guardian, The Times, The Financial Times, and Next City, among other publications.
The source of the photos leaked to the media remains a mystery.
On first glance, the room could have been anywhere, really. Depicted in a batch of photos sent to the German media this week, it included a single bed, a small armchair, a flourishing yucca, and dime store art hung on cheap wall paper. Zoom out a little, however, and you realize that something about the room is deeply strange.
Look at the graffiti and the grimy metal handrail. This room is in no ordinary location. Rather, it’s a recently discovered and much discussed ”secret apartment”—a mysterious bedchamber of unknown origin, hidden away down an unused tunnel in Berlin’s subway system.
Located on a stem of the city’s U9 subway line, the secret room was so well hidden that staff knew nothing of its existence until December. Discovered during a routine fire inspection of tunnels, the place—judging by the photos—appears both creepy and magical in turn, both hideaway and lair.
Not that it actually “appeared” to anyone apart from subway staff until this week. Photos of the room were distributed to German media via an anonymous source—perhaps taken by someone other than a staffer, without permission. (They’re shown here courtesy of the Berliner Zeitung.)
So who created the room? And was it the same person who sent the photos?
So far, no one seems to know. Possibilities raised on German social media have ranged from impoverished students saving on rent to artists staging some form of performance. Among the most likely explanations is that it was created by someone involved in Berlin’s graffiti scene. Tagging trains and platforms with spray paint is still a thing in Berlin, and people involved are more likely than most to know their way around the tunnels.
You won’t be surprised to learn that Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe, the city’s transit company, is less than pleased. “It’s dangerous to cross [lines],” said BVG spokesperson Petra Reetz to the Berliner Zeitung. “The power was turned on all around it. … It is clear trespassing and if we know who is behind it, we will report it.”
If someone is able to drag a table, bed, chair, lamp, and television into the subway system, security on Berlin’s transit system clearly isn’t as tight as it could be. With that lax oversight in mind, the mysterious discovery raises another tantalizing possibility: Could there be yet more rooms lurking down other tunnels beneath the city?