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A journey through time on the way to Hamburg's first subway line

How the booming port of Hamburg brought public transport forward, the HOCHBAHN was founded and a big city feeling developed thanks to the subway
Hamburg - metropolis with traffic problems

At the beginning of the 20th century, Hamburg was a booming city: the economy was booming, the Hanseatic city had one of the most important ports in the world, and the population grew to almost one million people in 1900. New residential quarters were constantly being built for the new citizens of Hamburg, mostly on the outskirts of the city, for example in Barmbek or Eimsbüttel. And here was the problem: While most people lived on the outskirts of the city, many jobs were located in the center and in the port area. There was already a public transport system - horse-drawn omnibuses had been running since 1839 and were gradually replaced by streetcars. And the route network was also well developed, with 294 kilometers in 1902. But the journey times were long and the prices so high that it was precisely the low-paid day laborers who walked to work and spent several hours a day on the road. Thus, there was a lack of a modern transportation system that could transport many people quickly.

Big city traffic in the Great Burstah, 1910

The first subway plans

But the new means of transportation was supposed to do more than "just" get people from point A to point B. Rather, the Senate, the City Council and the advisory commissions were looking ahead. The aim was to provide comprehensive access to the city, affordable fares and a transport system that could be flexibly expanded to keep pace with urban growth. Therefore, the idea of building a suspension railroad like the one in Wuppertal/Elberfeld was quickly rejected. The steel structures with moving gondolas were too expensive and too inflexible in terms of construction. The solution for Hamburg: a subway.

After lengthy deliberations, on May 2, 1906, the Senate and the City Parliament passed a resolution by 115 votes to 13 for the construction of a subway by a consortium of Siemens & Halske and AEG. On June 1, 1906, the Senate then approved the construction contract: for the fixed sum of 41.5 million marks, the Berlin consortium was commissioned to build a subway ring around the Alster.

The substation in Heilwigstrasse, 1912

The construction of the circle line

After extensive soil investigations had been carried out along the planned route, construction work started in Hohenfelde on October 7, 1906 under the leadership of Siemens & Halske and AEG.  First of all, a conveyor track was set up to transport the overburden to a loading point at the Kuhmühlenteich. At the same time, work on the subway ring began in the vicinity and at seven other construction sites in the city: roads were torn up, almost seven kilometers of tunnels were built, around three kilometers of viaducts were erected, 1.6 kilometers of cuttings were dug, tracks were laid, and signaling systems were set up. By 1912, the ring line with 23 stops had been built, touching all important parts of the city. In addition, a workshop and a power station were built in Barmbek to supply electricity.

The architectural design of the stops followed a simple principle: If there were already buildings, the stops adapted to them in terms of style. Where possible, however, the stops also set new architectural accents. The result was a varied architectural landscape in which historicism and reform architecture can be found just as much as purely technical buildings. A trip on the Ringlinie is therefore also a reflection of the architecture of the last 100 years.

Image gallery: Construction of the circle line: