In the first half of the 19th century, Berlin’s population more than doubled: from 172,000 in 1800 to 426,000 in 1852. At a time when train travel was the only form of mass transit, the explosive growth in people was both caused by, and an effect of, rapidly expanding rail infrastructure.
In the course of just a few years, five big new train stations were built in Berlin: Potsdamer Bahnhof (1838); Anhalter Bahnhof (1839); Stettiner Bahnhof, now called Nordbahnhof (1842); Frankfurter Bahnhof, now called Ostbahnhof (1842); and the Hamburger Bahnhof (1846/47).
As was typical at the time, the stations were built as terminus-style stations (Kopfbahnhof, literally “head train station), with trains arriving and departing on the same set of tracks, rather than as through-style stations. They were named according to what lay at the end of the tracks. The Stettiner Bahnhof, for example, was for trains heading east towards Stettin (now Szczecin in Poland), trains from the Potsdamer Bahnhof headed for Potsdam, and so on.
Terminus-style stations had the benefit of not requiring tracks that crossed through the heart of the city. The downside was that if you arrived at one of them and wanted to transfer to another, it was really hard to get there.
Here’s a map of the 5 train stations. As you can see, they form a rough circle around the city center.
Even today, getting from one to the other without using a train would be a difficult. Imagine if you had to use a horse, if you had baggage, or if you were transporting freight. It wouldn’t be easy today, and it certainly was even more difficult in the 1840s.
The solution, put into service in 1850, was the Berliner Verbindungsbahn (literally the Berlin Connector Train).
The Connector Train, as you might have guessed by now, connected the five train stations with rail service. This made it much easier to get yourself and anything you were carrying from one of the train stations to any of the others.
Tracks were laid at street level, though, meaning that the Connector Train locomotives competed for space with pedestrians and horse traffic. It was a connection, sure, but it wasn’t perfect.
I wasn’t able to find out for sure whether the Berlin Connector Train was planned in conjunction with the construction of the other train stations, or if it was only conceived later, after the stations were already built. In any case, it was an imperfect solution, not least because it was forced to compete with all sorts of other traffic. And residents along its path, naturally, didn’t like how loud and dirty the train was.
The Berlin Connector Train wasn’t destined to have a very long service life. Already in 1865, only 15 years after it was brought online, plans were developed to build a larger connector track that would completely encircle the city. This train line would be built outside the city limits and would be elevated, meaning that it wouldn’t ever compete with street traffic.
In 1866, after a successful Prussian war against Austria, the funds were released and construction began on what would become the Berliner Ringbahn, which is still in use today.
The eastern section of the Ringbahn opened on July 17, 1871. On July 16, one day prior, service officially ended on the Berlin Connector Train.
One small section of the Berlin Connector Train remained in service, though, transporting 150,000 tons of coal each year between Görlitzer Bahnhof and the gas plant at Prinzenstraße (now a public pool) on the tracks running down what’s now Skalitzer Straße. Service was shut down for good in 1927.
Very little trace remains of the Berlin Connector Train these days. Of the 5 train stations it originally served, only Potsdamer Bahnhof and Frankfurter Bahnhof (now Ostbahnhof) have any “real” trains. Stettiner Bahnhof (now Nordbahnhof) is only for S-bahn service, Hamburger Bahnhof is now an art museum, and Anhalter Bahnhof was erased from the map after the Second World War.