11 Jul 2012 — Henning Lahmann
The U8 is not like the other Berlin underground lines. Alongside the U6 and U9, it is one of the three that cut through the city from north to south, yet on its 18-kilometer course through the capital, it deliberately spares the principal shopping areas in the west (Zoo and Kurfürstendamm, U9) and in the east (Friedrichstraße, U6), as if it were not one of those who give a damn about all those shiny boulevards. It crosses Alexanderplatz, once one of the city's main commercial hubs, but nowadays you'd hardly want to call it a destination for serious money-spending activities. When that grotesquely inflated square still used to be the pounding heart of East Berlin, the U8 refused to stop here, as the city's U-Bahn was operated by the Western authorities; in fact, the entrances to the underground station at Alexanderplatz had been bricked up in order to prevent GDR 'citizens' from escaping to the West.
Anyway - the U8, as we've said, doesn't care about such things. It is and always has been a workers' line, connecting the old blue-collar neighborhoods Wedding in the north and Kreuzberg and Neukölln in the south, crossing the walled former inner German border twice, thereby traversing quite a few wastelands, architectural scars left over by forty years of Cold War. Which is why it also crosses so many areas in the very heart of historic Berlin that lay abandoned when the Wall came down, subsequently giving birth to the myth of the city as the Mecca of never-ending raves in rundown, squatted warehouses and department stores. The district that made all these things possible back in the day is quite prosaically known as Mitte, and it - in particular the area around Rosenthaler Platz - used to be the place to be for the hip and cool before too many hip and cool started settling here with their MacBooks, sipping lattes in über-rad cafés until they grew tired of each other, a story that will sound all too familiar for anyone living in a metropolis. So the U8 started carrying all those transnational hipster elitists away from Mitte, first to Kreuzberg, and then, nowadays, to Neukölln, where the young folks still long to find some bars and clubs and streets that represent the idea of Berlin as a raw, unpolished and somewhat anarchic city made for all those escapist, lost souls. Wedding will be next, as quite a few believe, when Neukölln has started to outgrow its hipness in the wake of that curious thing sociologists have labeled gentrification.
Which brings us back to our topic: As long as the U8 stops there, the herd will follow - the line itself does not care what scenes dominate overground, and where. It is in this sense that the U8 has become so vital for the memories of the thousands of tourists and expats who populate the city on every day of the year: It will not take you to Berlin's main attractions like the U2, or U6; it does not get along on a majestically elevated course across the Spree river, through beautiful 19th century streets towards the noble, upper-class western district of Charlottenburg, like the much more presentable U1; to the contrary, it remains in the dark the whole time. Still, the U8 has very much become the symbol for what we like to call "new" Berlin, and it is for us as for many the city's one true lifeline.
Last fall, Michael McGregor aka Meadowlands
spent some time in town, living in a flat on Neukölln's Mainzer Straße, close to Boddinstraße
station. "U8 " is a love letter to the underground line that let McGregor explore Berlin like so many before, and quite a few who succeeded him. Which is why we're so grateful for this entrancing, wonderful piece of ambient music.
Music From Mainzer Straße
is out now on Moon Glyph
. Get it here