It's end of the line for historic Berlin station
THE trains now arriving at Zoo railway station in western Berlin are to be among the last - much to the anger of a city that feels it is losing one of its greatest cultural and historical Cold War icons.
German Rail has announced that, from May, long-distance trains will no longer stop at Berlin's primary train terminal.
Bahnhof Zoo is not large. It has only four platforms, there is one restaurant that has seen better days, no fantastic tile murals or imposing architecture and, aside from travellers, there is a permanent presence of down-and-outs, punks, prostitutes and homeless.
But the downgrading of the Zoo to a local rail station has provoked more letters of protest than just about any other municipal decision in the past five decades.
Bahnhof Zoo tugs at the heartstrings of west Berliners like no other single structure. It was here that loved ones arrived from the east when the communists let them go, that trains arrived through East Germany bearing dignitaries, family, friends and supplies.
During the almost three decades that the Berlin Wall separated two political philosophies, not to mention neighbours, Zoo Station was the western sector's main train terminal.
It came almost to represent the small island of democracy and capitalism in the socialist East German sea.
"The symbolic power of the station is very strong," said Manuela Damianakis, of Berlin's planning office. "It was one of the most important parts of the city, especially since it was the arrival point for visitors from the West."
With the construction of the Berlin Wall, the traditional centre, the neighbourhood of Mitte, was cut off from the west of the city.
A new centre developed, with its focus around Zoo Station and the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. It served as a capitalist counterpoint to the socialist city centre at Alexanderplatz in East Berlin.
"There is something mythic about the station because it was at the very heart of West Berlin life for so many years," added Damianakis.
The station has been the subject of books, songs by rock stars such as U2 and Nina Hagen and a popular musical, Line 1, which tells the story of a West German girl arriving at Zoo Station to experience life and love in the big city.
But, when the wall fell, the planners of the reborn capital opted for a grandiose new central station, the Lehrter Bahnhof, several stops away.
It means that the speeding express trains that sweep along at 250kph will now pass through Zoo Station or avoid it altogether.