Memory of ghost stations

She was born in April 1979 on what she perceived as an artificial island called West Berlin. She grew up in an apartment facing the train rails that connected “her” island with the “rest” of Germany. Being surrounded by “the East” and having people refer to places in the South as “West Germany” definitely messed up her geographic sense of orientation.

As she was a slow but creative learner, her parents decided to send her to a private Steiner school at the other end of town, right in front of the Berlin wall. Together with her classmates she took the public transportation system - the underground railway and buses - to get there. One day, she must have been about 9 years old, they were in an adventurous mood and wanted to try out a different way home. They got off the bus at Kurt-Schumacher Platz and took an underground train that somehow went into the right direction, but it was totally unknown to her: the U6. For the first few stations she enjoyed the ride. She felt independent and grown up. But her joyful and proud laughter stopped abruptly when the train did not stop anymore. It passed through numerous, dimly lit, dark and empty “ghost stations” that looked like construction sights. Passing through the stations it slowed down. It did not stop. In the tunnel it regained speed. She panicked. She realized that they were in “the East”: Even more disturbing: They were underneath the East. One of her friends started to cry, wondering if they would ever get back to their parents. Was the train really taking them to their home destinations? Would they have to stay in the East? There were other passengers, but this did not prevent the children from feeling lost and alone.

Islands have funny shapes sometimes, especially artificial ones. After passing several “ghost stations” the train reached a “normal”, brightly lit station with people waiting on the platform. They were back in the “West”. Remembering the situation from her adult perspective, it felt like a scene in slow motion or like being in a differently colored film. The train stopped and she jumped out as fast as she could. Relieved. Together with her classmates, she ran towards a public phone box and called her friend’s parents to come and pick them up. They had tears in their eyes – but somehow also felt like having been heroes, just for one day.