Waisen Tunnel – The East-West Escape through Berlin’s Underground

Berlin has many unknown structures. One of those man-made hidden things is located right under Spree River and connects the Berlin subway area between Littenstraße and Brückenstraße. At the moment Waisen Tunnel is subject to redevelopment. Back in 1980 the connection tunnel was stage of a spectacular and clever escape from East to West Berlin.

Into Waisen Tunnel…

We meet us at Jannowitzbrücke station. From there we walk into the track bed of Berlin’s U8 subway line. Of course everything is official and announced. Otherwise it wouldn’t take much time to make a personal encounter with a large number of Berlin police. Also the train operation would be fully stopped, as walking in the tracks and tunnels means danger to life. Only some hundred metres behind Jannowitz station we reach the Waisentunnel turn-off.

Waisen Tunnel is a connection tunnel between the U8 line main route and the tunnel and rail system around Alexanderplatz. Asking for the name’s origin becomes superfluous when knowing that the tunnel is an underpass of Waisenstraße. Just like Berlin’s infamous BER airport Waisen Tunnel never ever saw an airplane, respectively a regular train as. Around the turn of the century AEG company wanted to build a north-south connection. Due to financial consequences of World War I. that construction project went bankrupt though.

New construction and redevelopment

By the standards of that time the construction works for Waisen Tunnel were revolutionary as Siemens Bauunion company poured underwater concrete right into the bed of Spree River. To finalise the tunnel, they made a drawdown to remove the soil. That construction method had only very few effects on Spree River boats, as shipping between Oberbaum and Unterbaum was very important back then. Despite the revolutionary construction method Waisen Tunnel always has problems with water leaks, leading to a first tunnel redevelopment in 1930.

I am lucky and got the opportunity to photograph the soon being under construction tunnel while its without support pillars. For photographer the S-bend and its lines are a gift, while for engineers and in particular for bankrollers the S-bend will be a costly challenge. In the night of March 8th, 1980 the signalling mechanic Dieter Wendt and his family spectacularly escaped from East to West Berlin. Before reaching the redemptive U8 line they had to squeeze themselves through the Waisen Tunnel weir chamber. Where now the Chinese embassy building stands they stopped a train, got picked up and hid out from border soldiers as well as transport police in the driver’s booth. In East-West times the U8 was a ghost line, meaning it started in West Berlin, crossed East Berlin territory in the underground with no stop being allowed at all, to reach West Berlin again.

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