Happy Museum Monday! Today we have a great family-friendly museum from our old stomping grounds in Berlin to share with you. Berlin has well over a hundred museums, so we very quite spoilt for choice, and as well as visiting all the popular museum attractions, we also liked to hunt down hidden gems and off the beaten track museums. One of those, was the U-Bahn Museum, which opened in 1997 and has over 300 collected items on display, representing over 100 years of Berlin’s U-Bahn history. “U-Bahn” is short for “Untergrund Bahn”, the name for the city’s underground transit railway (some of which, confusingly, runs over ground), and the easiest way to get there is, of course, via the U-Bahn. You need to head to the stop <Olympia Stadion>, which is on the U2 line. If you take the lift up to ground level, you’ll exit outside and need to take a turn to the right and re-enter this building:
Or, if you, exit from the platform up the steps, you’ll run straight in to this:
No doubt about it where the entrance to the museum is! After such a magnificent entrance, and promising our then 3.5 year old we were visiting a “train museum”, his initial disappointment at discovering the museum did not actually contain any “real trains” was immense. I have to admit, I hadn’t realised this myself, having just gone by a poster I’d seen without doing any further research. He wanted to leave again straight away, but we managed to persuade him to give the museum a chance. Over an hour later, he didn’t want to leave. Kids!
The Berlin U-Bahn Museum is located in the rooms of the former electromechanical signal box at Olympia Stadion. After buying your admission ticket at a former ticket attendant’s cabin from Rüdesheimer Platz station (in use 1957-77), your first stop is the entrance hall with its collection of station name signs, old U-Bahn maps, and posters (not so interesting for our three year old, super interesting for the adults) as well as biographies of the Berlin U-Bahn’s founding fathers, and railway station mementos such as cigarette or gum machines and a weighing machine.
Undoubtedly one of the main attractions, however, is the Signal Box Room, which is dominated by a signal cabin (in use 1931-83) measuring over 13 metres long and sporting over 100 levers. Signs kindly request visitors do not touch any of the levers, but all you need to do is ask one of the friendly staff members who will assist you in getting hands-on and operating the levers to change the signals – thrilling for kids and grown-ups alike!
Other exhibits here included further signal frames, switchboards, a 1920s telephone exchange and of course, you can’t have a train museum of any kind without some model trains. There were both the wooden and the electrical kind for little train fans to play with (strictly kids only so the adult train geeks don’t monopolise them – though helping your kids is allowed – and turns are limited by an egg timer when it’s busy to ensure everyone gets a turn).
Other hands-on activities included a mechanical track switch which you can try your hand at changing by turning the handle, and one of those buzz wire challenges that I’m really terrible at because I have the world’s unsteadiest hands (see husband demonstrating below). And from the windows you have a great view of the train tracks below – the closest we got to seeing “real trains” at the museum, lol.
There werefour other rooms to explore, including the Clockroom, which is dominated by two large Masterclock units (in use until 1970 and 1989), as well as other equipment such as various lamps and yet more signals.
Next door to the Clockroom, you can take a seat on some leather train benches from the 1920s and watch a film with old footage from the early days of the Berlin U-Bahn, through the Second World War and the destruction that followed, the division of Germany and thus also the U-Bahn network, and the reunification, reopening and expansion of the train lines. An old mechanical train door separates this room from the next, and kids can have a go at operating it to see how you could close it with just one hand, but needed two hands two open it – a simple safety precaution to stop the doors accidentally opening if someone suddenly grabbed on to them.
The museum corridor is covered from floor to ceiling with more U-Bahn memorabilia, including old photographs, time tables, signalling discs and dire fighting equipment.
And the final room showcases a collection of uniforms through the decades and a recreated train dispatcher’s room from the 1950s. The biggest attraction here, however, was the dispatcher’s raised desk from the Augsburger Straße station (in use 1965-85), where kids can take their turn on the working tannoy, and watch the other visitors on the CCTV screen, the corresponding camera of which is pointed down the corridor. We spent a looong time in this room – interspersed with being sent in to the corridor to wave at the camera!
The Berlin U-Bahn Museum is run by the voluntary working group Berliner U-Bahn e.V. and is only open every second Saturday of each month, from 10:30am to 4pm, last entry is at 3pm. Admission is 2 Euro for adults, 1 Euro for kids under 12. Whether you are a bit of a train geek yourself, or have a little train lover at home, this hidden gem is definitely worth a visit. Just make sure not to promise them any “real trains”!