Cold War Transport Rolls into Berlin

WORLD

The newest trains on the U-Bahn, Berlin’s busy subway system, first rolled out before the Berlin Wall was constructed. (The Atlantic CityLab)

How does the U-Bahn serve Berlin? Take a look through our GeoStory on public transportation for some guidance.

Some versions of the Stahldora (Steel Dora) subway trains have been in use since the 1950s. This holiday-themed train was brought out of retirement for the 75th birthday of Berlin’s U8 line. Photograph by Jcornelius, courtesy Wikimedia. CC-BY-SA-2.0-DE

Some versions of the Stahldora (Steel Dora) subway trains have been in use since the 1950s. This train was brought out of retirement for the 75th birthday of Berlin’s U8 line. (The no-smoking signs give it away as a modern photo. No way would Berliners of the 1950s not be lighting up.)
Photograph by Jcornelius, courtesy Wikimedia. CC-BY-SA-2.0-DE

Discussion Ideas

  • Why has the city of Berlin decided to dust off its classic Cold War-era subway cars, nicknamed ‘Doras’?
    • According to CityLab, “Berlin has a desperate shortage of rolling stock. City transit body BVG (Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe) wants to avoid the costs of buying more engines and reckons it can renovate and re-kit three of the old trains for just €1.9 million [$2.1 million]—a snip compared to what three entirely new trains would cost.”

 

  • Are 1950s-era Doras efficient enough for one of Europe’s busiest cities?
    • Yes. Although the Doras were introduced in the 1950s, the last version didn’t leave Berlin rails until 1999. The trains will also be retrofitted to modern safety standards and equipped with new engines.
    • There are only three cars being introduced, and they will serve Berlin’s shortest subway line, the U55. In 2020, the U55 will likely be extended and new trains will probably be introduced.
    • The cars will mostly serve a very specific community—tourists interested in Cold War history. “There are already plenty of tourists in this area, and more may use the line if now they know it’s becoming a mobile 1950s theme park. And if you’re a fan of old school transit, you might be taken with the carriages’ green pleather upholstery and milky-glassed light fittings. And even if the electrics will all be reworked, the BVG plans to keep a few old signs in place, such as those warning fare-dodgers of a possible fine of 60 now-defunct Deutschmarks.”
      • What are Deutschmarks and why are they defunct? (Deutschmarks were the currency used in Germany before it adopted the Euro in 2002.)

 

  • Do you think extending the U-Bahn is a good idea for commuters in Berlin? Do you think public transportation is a good idea in your own community? Adapt question three from our study guide on public transportation for some guidance.
    • Think about Berlin’s landscape:
      • do commuters spend time and money navigating around rivers or lakes? (Yes!)
      • is there a small downtown area where many people travel short distances to work? (Yes!)
      • are roads and highways constantly busy? (Yes!)
    • Think about Berlin’s economy:
      • are traffic and parking fees costing commuters time and money? (Yes!)
      • is the local or regional community willing and able to invest in constructing a public transportation system? (Yes, mostly)
    • Think about Berlin’s people:
      • what forms of transportation are commuters using now? (In addition to a huge subway system, Berliners also use bicycles, ferries, railways, trams, buses, and of course Germany’s famous autobahn road network.)
      • would the public transportation system impact their commute? (Would pedestrians lose footpaths? Would cyclists lose lanes?) (Yes, construction of underground rail lines would temporarily disrupt traffic.)
      • are commuters willing to give up the independence of having their own vehicle? (Yes, mostly)

 

TEACHERS TOOLKIT

The Atlantic CityLab: Berlin Is Bringing Back Subway Trains From the 1950s

Nat Geo: Public Transportation GeoStory

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