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The weird, colourful postmodern U-Bahn stations of Berlin

No architect shaped the face of Berlin's U-Bahn more than Rainer G. Rümmler. But are these postmodern designs cool, or kitsch?

Ever heard of Rainer G. Rümmler? There might be no other architiect who has shaped the lives of everyday Berliners to the same extent. His main gig was designing U-Bahn stations – and he did lots of them.

From the 1960s on, almost every new station in West Berlin bore his signature. Some people love his trendy postmodern design, others think it is indefensibly kitsch. Don’t know what you think? Let’s take a look:

U-Bahnhof Paulsternstraße

An enchanted forest, a fairytale cave, or an LSD trip? Paulsternstraße station. Photo: Andreas Süß/BVG

Flowers, grasses, moths and trees adorn the walls and pillars of the Paulsternstraße U-Bahn station to create an enchanted forest. Rümmler was inspired by the former landscape of this neck of the woods. There was once a pine forest at Jungfernheide Park, the so-called Spreemoore, and a common called Sternfelde. The station, along with six others on the north-western stretch of U7, is now a protected monument.

U-Bahnhof Rathaus Steglitz

Cerberus guards the entrance to the underground at Rathaus Steglitz. Photo: Wikimedia Commos/Jcornelius/CC BY-SA 3.0

Raw concrete columns support the ceiling and the walls are covered in sheetrock at Rathaus Steglitz U-Bahn station. But the real eye-catcher is Cerberus, the three-headed dog who guards the entrance to the underworld according to Greek mythology.

Rathaus Steglitz is an embodiment of Rümmler’s architectural philosophy for his U-Bahn stations: they’re loud, funky and have something to say, stuffed full of details passengers can contemplate while they wait for that train.

U-Bahnhof Fehrbelliner Platz

Photo: IMAGO / Schöning

The entrance to Fehrbelliner Platz stands out bright red against the grey surrounding architecture. Inside, ceiling lights illuminate the orange tiled station from above. It’s a little time capsule of 1970s Berlin. Previously there were round seating niches embedded in the walls, but sadly the BVG have removed them.

U-Bahnhof Eisenacher Straße

Photo: Jörg Pawlitzke/BVG

If you sit on a bench in Eisenacher Straße U-Bahn station and gaze at the deep green cement tiles and walls, with your eyes half closed so that your eyelashes blur your view, you might be able to imagine yourself in a coniferous forest. Well, maybe it’s a bit of a stretch.

In the early 70s Rümmler built a number of ‘colour space’ stations, primarily along the U7 line. The underground stations at Rudow and Walther-Schreiber-Platz used to be part of it this series, but they have since been gutted. The royal blue walls at Bayerischer Platz underground station are another example.

U-Bahnhof Zitadelle

Photo: Jörg Pawlitzke/BVG

Back to the listed stations along the U7 in north-west Berlin we come to U-Bahnhof Zitadelle. The historic fortress above ground is echoed below, and the station looks like it could play home to knights feasting on pork and red wine. The walls are lined with red brick, the ceiling is wooden and the doors are reminiscent of castle gates.

U-Bahnhof Rohrdamm

Photo: Andreas Süß/BVG

This is a funky one. Moving onto the stations at the west end of the U7, we run into Rümmler’s pop art phase. He wanted to reflect the Siemens industrial plants which are located in the area of the Rohrdamm station. Interlocking gold and silver gears, pistons and rods adorn the walls. Kitsch or cool?

U-Bahnhof Rathaus Spandau

Photo: Imago/Sabine Gudath

The scale and grandeur of Rathaus Spandau U-Bahn station is reminiscent of a cathedral. Lights hang suspended from the ceiling attached to elegantly curved metal struts. The supporting pillars are clad in shiny black granite, and higher up are adorned with gold and emerald green. In contrast to the great architects of previous centuries, Rümmler believed that magnificent architecture was for normal people, not for gods or kings.

U-Bahnhof Richard-Wagner-Platz

Photo: Andreas Süß/BVG

Bright yellow and dark blue tiles dominate the Richard-Wagner-Platz station in an interlocking mosaic, on both the walls and the pillars. If you’re a music nerd and you look closely, you might even recognise scenes from Wagner’s operas. Even if you don’t catch the niche operatic references, you can enjoy the bold colour scape of yellow-blue tiles contrasting with the red ceiling.

U-Bahnhof Konstanzer Straße

“Swwwwwiiiissssshhhhh”. Photo: Andreas Süß/BVG

‘Dynamic’ is probably the word that best describes the design of the Konstanzer Straße U-Bahn station. Standing on the platform in the middle of the station, it almost seems as if the colors and streaks are making noises, namely “swwwwwiiiissssshhhhh”. The colored bands on the walls are so straight and long that you almost feel like you are being sucked into the station towards the vanishing point. On the other hand, round shapes dominate the ceiling.

This article was adapted from the German by Poppy Smallwood