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Rebuilding Germany’s railways after WW2

Posted in Architecture, Engineering, Historical articles, History, Transport, Travel, World War 2 on Thursday, 29 November 2012

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This edited article about Munich Railway Station originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 789 published on 26th February 1977.

Munich, picture, image, illustration

Looking from the Karistor towards the old tailway station in Munich c. 1900

A supreme example of the old and the new, brought about not by the passing of time but hastened by the destructive forces of war, is the main railway station at Munich in Western Germany.

Although German miners had invented the first flanged wheel and run their first crude trucks on rails, it was the British who first made a commercial success of passenger railway routes. Nevertheless, continental Europe, and Germany in particular, soon caught the railway mania.

However, right from the start, Germany decided to build a network of a national and geographical character, instead of the scores of often duplicated routes set up by the many private companies in Britain.

The resultant efficiency is proved by the fact that some parts of the German railways still make a profit, although a lot of their traffic has been lost to the roads and airlines.

Once again, it would appear that Britain led the way but came off worse in the end.

The man behind the German plan was an exile, Friedrich List, who lived in Pennsylvania, U.S.A., where he was the owner of a coal mine.

When he was 43 years of age, he was appointed American consul in Leipzig, and on his return to Germany he drew up a plan for a national rail network.

It was opposed by many people, especially by doctors. They stipulated that any railway would have to run on lines that were enclosed by close-boarded fencing. This was necessary so that other people could not see the passengers who, they believed, would be stricken with brain disease while they were being carried along at excessive speeds.

Other opponents declared that railways would eventually make horses unnecessary. This would allow foreign invaders to overrun Germany, which would have no cavalry to defend itself.

Catastrophic results if lightning should strike the metal rails were also predicted.

In 1834, the king of Bavaria gave his consent for a railway to be constructed between Nuremberg and Furth, a short distance away.

A German firm agreed to build a locomotive, but failed to deliver it on time. Britain stepped in and supplied not only a locomotive but also a driver whose pay, incidentally, was twice that of the manager of the railway.

The success of this venture really set the ball rolling, and soon long stretches of line were being constructed. Poor Friedrich List, however, was so upset by the ridicule that was poured on his initial ideas for a railway, that he took his life at the age of 57.

Meanwhile, several centres of activity began springing up and some of Germany’s fine stations came into being.

As was the case with British stations, great facades stood in front of the sheds. These made the stations good examples of the architects ingenuity in imparting grandeur to the railways. After all, not only were stations new things to design, but they had to comfort a timid public and cushion them against the worries of this new form of transport.

And of all these stations, it would be harder to find a better example than Munich. This great old station dated from the 1840s, and was a contemporary of Britain’s fine stations, built when the railway age was new.

However, the designs of the various stations differed considerably. Nevertheless, Munich bore a similarity to Britain’s Euston station by having a wide facade broken by several square structures. The train hall was built behind this. The facade was faced with a clock and graced by a small tower. Also, there was a spacious forecourt.

Later, as the trains grew longer and the passengers more numerous, the train hall became the main circulating area, and the new railway lines and platforms were constructed behind it under large, glass-covered spans.

This was the famous Munich main station which was used by millions of travellers until World War Two. It had been, among other things, a main stopping point on the world-famous Orient Express before it sped on further through Europe towards Turkey.

Then, with the war well under way, the famous station was bombed to rubble by British and Allied bombing planes and became a shattered shell.

After the war, from its ashes there grew one of the most advanced railway stations in the world. Nothing of the old station remains, except one small corner building.

Great cantilevered roofs reach out over the passengers and vehicles, while the interior is as efficiently designed as experience and German thoroughness can make it.

As the old station saw the first European sleeping cars, when they went into service on the Vienna-Munich run, so, today, the new station sees the efficient, clean-cut rolling stock of the German Federal Railways.

Famous locomotives have run from Munich. One of the most renowned of these is the class S.3/6 Compound Pacific. American influenced, they had high-pressure cylinders inside and low-pressure ones on the outside. As many as 145 were built between 1908 and 1931 at the Munich works.

These were the finest engines of their time. They worked every class of German passenger train from the great, majestic Rheingold Express to the heavy Sunday excursions from Munich to the mountains.

All of these tasks were completed by the locomotives with effortless efficiency. Whether they were climbing steep gradients or crossing the great plain west of Munich, these locomotives undertook their task with the minimum of fuss.

Railway enthusiasts from all over the world used to come to ride in a train pulled by one of these Compound Pacifics, the last of which ran in 1965.

The sound their wheels made upon the rails was like music to the ears of the enthusiasts, who now have to content themselves with seeing a fine example preserved at Munich.

Europe has suffered much in the years since Munich Station was built in the 1840s. Wars shattered the cities, and Munich Station suffered with them. But they have all arisen to face a future that one hopes will be happier than their past.

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