As Berlin's new central station opens this weekend, DW-WORLD.DE caught up with its, architect Meinhard von Gerkan, to discuss the controversial project.
Architect and client fell out over the station's design
Designed by Meinhard von Gerkan, the capital's new Hauptbahnhof was expected to cost 400 million euros but ended up swallowing a good 300 million euros more. As the extent of the fiasco became evident, Deutsche Bahn took a few cost-cutting measures, shortening the glass roof by 131 meters and installing a flat ceiling instead of Gerkan's planned dome. Appalled by what he saw as his client's lack of vision, the architect took legal action.
DW-WORLD.DE: What makes the new station so special?
Meinhard von Gerkan: Primarily the fact that it marks the center of Germany. It's a railway interchange station which links east and west in the middle of Europe -- moreover in Berlin's government district, right on the doorstep of the Reichstag and the Chancellery. It's an ensemble that gives stations an entirely new character. What sets the architectural structure apart is the fact you're in a spatial continuum where two tracks that are 25 meters apart actually converge, one of them 15 meters underground, the other ten meters above ground. Then there's so much space throughout the building. You can grasp the station's function both optically and atmospherically and retain your bearings. It's the first station of its kind in the world. It's also a very striking landmark.
The station is opening at the weekend and beginning service on Sunday. Are you glad it's time to hand the building over to the public?
I'm glad that this very long-winded, 14-year process has come to a provisional end and I hope that remaining imperfections can still be repaired.
What aspects of the project are you particularly proud of?
We're very pleased that we managed to reach a symbiosis of construction, form and function. It's a perfect fusion of construction and architecture that might well be unprecedented. It isn't a building with a facade and a roof -- it's more seamless. Every single detail is also a constructive factor. Its structural elements, which derive from steel construction; integrated glass and solar plant in the ceiling, make it a piece of materialized technology.
Do you have a favorite station?
Central Station in New York is my favorite, because the urban setting is an integral part of the station and the station an integral part of the urban setting.
Would you do it all again, despite all the difficulties you encountered?
They weren't difficulties, just arbitrary problems and ill will. You can never foresee that kind of thing. When you start a project you never know what's going to happen in the next few years. I'd never encountered this sort of difficulty before and I would never assume it's a standard occurrence. It has nothing to do with the particular project, its function or the city of Berlin.
Do you expect to reach an agreement with your client, Deutsche Bahn?
The end of the line for the Gerkan project
I imagine that once the station begins operating, the public and the politicians will realize that this issue is a national disgrace -- for German architecture, politics and for Germany. And that means that the interest in fixing the problem -- which is easy enough -- will grow. I do believe this should be possible without legal support.