End of the line for the railroad yard
The only trains left at the Güterbahnhof Pankow are the trains of thought. Even the tracks are gone, taken away lest the carriages that once trundled through feel like trundling through again. Yes, their trundling days are over, and the surviving buildings mourn their absence even as they crumble and fade into the ignominy of abandonment.
Now the ones that remain are hollow and empty inside, starved of the hustle and bustle they crave, denied their lifeblood of freight cars coming to be loaded. How they must long for their trains!
The S-Bahn still whizzes by from time to time, stopping next door at S-Bahnhof Pankow-Heinersdorf with all its bells and whistles, but that only makes it worse for the once-proud Güterbahnhof, as it looks over with disdain fueled by the jealousy of not being wanted. Passengers, bah!
Now it just rots. Nothing works and nothing’s being repaired. The train turntable doesn’t spin anymore and the control cabin’s in a sorry state. Too many parties – even the DJ has left.
Blackened beams attest to a hellish retirement, the smell of smoke still lingers, scattered sheets of paper flutter around the office, names and addresses for all to see (so much for Germany’s paranoia with privacy law), and the clock on the administration building only tells the right time twice a day.
It used to be so different. The railroad yard began operations in 1893 or 1904 (depending on your source) and was only closed down (for reasons I have so far been unable to determine) in 1997. At its peak, it could handle up to 1,800 freight cars a day. Nearly 2,000 Güterwagen in one day!
But they ripped out the rail tracks and knocked down a few buildings by 2007. Then in 2009, the whole 40-hectare site, including the land going down as far as S-Bahnhof Pankow, was snapped up by furniture store magnate Kurt Krieger.
Since then Krieger has been fighting (living up to his name) to develop the site. Initial reports suggested he wanted to invest €350 million to build a 30,000 square meter shopping center and a 40,000 square meter furniture shop (à la Ikea), while planting 1,370 new trees and creating a five hectare park. The latest plans are for a whole new neighborhood called “Pankower Tor” consisting a shopping center, school and some 2,000 apartments.
There’s a “Pankower Tor” info box at S-Bahnhof Pankow to inform locals of the latest exciting developments, but that’s abandoned, too. I’ve never seen it open. It’s locked up secure and covered in graffiti. So that tells you all you need to know about the plans.
The impressive round Rundlokschuppen (railway roundhouse), where they were able to turn locomotive engines with no reverse, is a protected building apparently dating to 1893 and one of the last two in Germany.
Krieger initially wanted to invest €5 million to restore it for cultural use.
“Maybe we’ll turn it into the opera of Pankow,” he joked in his broad Berliner dialect, according to Tagesspiegel. Pankow and opera are a strange mix, to say the least, and those plans appear have hit a bum note in the meantime.
The protected roundhouse is being battered by time and as it passes, there will be little of it left to protect anymore. It’s often what happens to “protected” buildings in these parts. Denkmalschutz (for a listed building) means nothing at all. Denk mal.
For now the site is inhabited by rabbits, street artists and odd people who like to practice voodoo and the like, with security prowling to try keep them all away. But they couldn’t keep the goldfish away! There were quite a few enjoying a feeding frenzy at the surface under the train turntable.
One of the buildings I found myself in had a load of bricks and sheets of paper arranged in the middle of the floor like a voodoo temple.
For now Güterbahnhof Pankow is at the end of the line. But the development work could be given a green light at any time, or not.
One way or another, the Güterbahnhof is still waiting to go off on a whole new track.
LOCATION AND ACCESS (HOW TO FIND GUIDE)
- What: Güterbahnhof Pankow. Former railroad yard or freight station with two train turntables, one inside, one outside, that used to handle up to 1,800 freight cars a day. Now it handles none. But that’s progress.
- Where: Am Feuchten Winkel 137-145, Berlin 13089.
- How to get there: It’s beside the S-Bahnhof Pankow-Heinersdorf. Best to get the train there but then go back over the bridge from where you will see the Rundlokschuppen to your left, keep walking, then take your first left, go left again, and again, until you’re walking alongside the main road you just left. Here’s a map. If visiting, Pankow Schwimmhalle is also nearby.
- Getting in: Getting in is no longer as easy as it once was. You’ll need to walk to the north of the site, where there’s a gate for cars to access. The gate will be locked of course, but there’s a small gap in the fence to the left of it from where you’ll be able to squeeze in if you don’t mind getting dirt on your clothes. If you mind getting dirt on your clothes you should just stay away. From everything.
- When to go: I reckon daytime is best, but it could also be a decent spot for a party under moonshine.
- Difficulty rating: 8/10. It changes all the time.
- Who to bring: Girlfriend/boyfriend (but not both at same time) or simply friends for a party. Trainspotters are a weird species but they’d also be into this.
- What to bring: Beer. You’d survive if you brought nothing but beer. Bring a camera if you want to take a few snaps. Bring some snaps if you want to drink some snaps. Bring vodka, whiskey, and rum too if you want to get shitfaced.
- Dangers: There were warnings of cameras and security in the comments below but there was no security there on the latest visit and if there are cameras, they’re not working. I don’t think the Polizei give too much of a Scheiße. Just watch out for the usual things when venturing around such places.
Along the same tracks…
West Berlin’s lifeline during the Soviet Blockade, Tempelhof Airport has since become the city’s biggest park. Berliners will fight to keep it that way.
Germany’s Luftwaffe used Flugplatz Schönwalde for the war. The Soviets took over afterward and left their traces after abandoning the airfield in 1992.
Flugplatz Brand was strategically important for the Soviet Air Force. Thankfully its battalions of flying fighters remained on ice for the duration of the Cold War.