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The underground railroad

After a lonely wait of 30 years, the oldest U-Bahn tunnel in Germany has reopened for public tours thanks to Berlin Unterwelten. To do it up festive, visit the tunnel for its 120th birthday on Jun 17 at the "Lange Nacht der Unterwelten".

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Photo by Marie Yako

Still fascinated by Berlin’s industrial and wartime past? After a lonely wait of 30 years, the oldest U-Bahn tunnel in Germany has reopened for public tours thanks to Berlin Unterwelten, the historical nonprofit known for its exclusive guided jaunts through Wedding’s Cold War bunkers and the Humboldthain flak tower.

Not far from the latter lies the former site of AEG, one of Berlin’s first electric companies. Descend beneath it, and you’ll find the 295-metre-long Versuchstunnel (“test tunnel”) founder Emil Rathenau ordered built in 1897 to convince Berlin’s city planners that an underground railway was the solution to the city’s mounting traffic issues. It didn’t work, at least not back then: a cheaper, above-ground alternative, which we now know as the U1, was installed in 1902.

Over the course of 90 minutes, Unterwelten’s guide, a native Berliner in a neon-yellow safety vest, leads you through the dimly-lit tube, which measures about three metres in diameter, while explaining its multi-chaptered past. It’s cold and clammy, around 10 degrees even in summer, with old wiring under the ceiling recalling the long-discontinued electrical railway inside.

Saltpetre remnants still crystallise on the walls from when ammunitions were built in this very spot during World War I; further on, the guide points out the holes used to anchor bunks during WWII, when the tunnel was transformed into a bomb shelter for AEG factory workers. It was then used to transport materials and workers to AEG’s secondary factory on Ackerstraße, before the whole complex shuttered in 1984.

If you’re ready to head into the dark bowels of the city, on June 17 join the “Lange Nacht der Unterwelten” for the tunnel’s 120-year birthday. Tours are only in German at the moment, but will be offered in English by the end of the year.

Berliner Unterwelten Tour A Voltastr. 6, Wedding, Sat 11-12:30, 13-14:30, €13, book at www.berliner-unterwelten.de