We have to thank the Ringbahn for giving Berlin a proper “city center”. It is not only a means of travel – it is also the designated border between the decidedly urban and the so called metro area. The S41/42 lines that take you from S-Bahn Wedding to Ostkreuz, Neukölln, Westend and back in a 360° ellipse are critical to the day to day of many commuters.
There was a posting recently on SlowTravelBerlin, an Ode To Berlins’ S-Bahn that explains very well the historical gravity of Berlins unique infrastructure.
Cities like London and Paris were already massive metropolises by the time trains arrived in Berlin, meaning that big ideas like high-speed overground railways encircling the city or cross-town link schemes were already de-facto impossible. From the inception of railways, it took Paris over 100 years to start linking its main termini with proper trains; London is only just moving on Crossrail this year.
In Berlin, things were essentially the other way round. The hugely practical Ringbahn that draws a circle around the city centre was built in the 1870s on what was essentially greenfield land; Berlin’s growth spurt only really got going after they’d built it. In other cities, railways were bolted on as afterthoughts; in Berlin, they grew with.
I’ve often spent tired nights missing my stop on the Ringbahn and falling asleep repeatedly. Stefan, who enjoys riding the Ringbahn just as much as I do, spent a whole cycle on the train for a unique Berlin perspective.