When I started taking photographs of Berlin for work, I soon found out, not only empirically but also from friends and colleagues, that Berliners have a fellow relationship with the city’s Ringbahn. It was then not only my interest but also my sheer duty to scrutinise what was behind the ring and the relation commuters had with it.
The fastest and probably the easiest way to travel vast distances in Berlin is, without a doubt, by making use of its Ringbahn, and the entire S-Bahn system to be honest. For those who haven’t experienced it, the Ringbahn, meaning circular railway in German, is a 37km/23.2 mile long railroad that goes around the city of Berlin. It encircles the main city and passes by its outskirts, making it possible to crisscross it in less than 60minutes. -Take that London or Paris! - In fact, The Ringbahn is a mere particle of a massive system of public transport that indicates just how influential railways have been in Berlin’s history as a metropolis.
Going back in history
Unlike Paris or London, whereby railroads were constructed after the cities had grown to humongous proportions, Berlin had still enough space and mind-sets to build a high-speed overground railway system that would encircle and link the entire city. Urban development in Berlin was therefore exactly the other way around. First came the ring and then came the city behind it. When the Ringbahn was built, back in the 1870s, it was actually done so on what was practically green lands of nothingness, a city yet to be born there. Just to think of it, linking the city centre with the rest of its outskirts took Paris over a hundred years and London inaugurated its suburban overground system only in 2007. Here again: Berlin 1, the rest: 0.
Until the construction of the Berlin Wall in the 1960s, the ring made a complete circle, but it was during the cold war period that the lunacy of the division of the city played a massive role in the partition of the ring in two places: a three quarter ring for the west and a the remaining section for the east –between Schönhauser Alle and Treptower Park-. It was exactly this kind of craziness that made the reopening of the entire S-Bahn system and its ring a main priority after the fall of the wall. After a few ups and downs, the Ringbahn was reopened in 1993 and put into full circular service soon afterwards… This also explains why so little is left as a reminder of just how lunatic things were back then: Efficiency above nostalgia.
Touring the ring
Putting the cultural and historical value of the Ringbahn aside, taking the entire tour makes you acknowledge firstly: just how big Berlin is and second, it gives you a lovely view of parts of the city you would have otherwise never seen. -Ever wondered how Westkreuz areas looked like?- It is also a gorgeous window from which you can watch the urban landscape unfold before your eyes...
Personally, loving to watch people's behaviour and photographing the simplicity of us humans, riding the Ringbahn gave me a thousand a one facettes of the Berlin and of Berliners alike. Also, taking the entire ride and spending a whole cycle on a train made me ponder about just how easy it is to forget how ridiculously divided this city once was and how things such as a train or a train ride create that recognised fellowship between the traveller and the city being travelled.