In Berlin, the capital of Germany, stands the Pankow-Heinersdorf station and railyard. These distinct areas might share the same name, but they are far from being in the same state. One is a functioning railway station, and the other is an abandoned railway depot with a marshaling yard.
To the north of the Pankow passenger station, you can find a former train depot, called Bahnbetriebswerk Pankow-Heinersdorf. With an area of about 250,000 square meters (almost 300,000 square yards), the railyard employed hundreds of people during its heyday. Today, one of only two surviving roundhouses in Germany stands on this site.
The Pankow-Heinersdorf station, along with its associated yard, opened on October 1, 1893. The trains operating at that time in Germany were steam trains, and they were only able to move efficiently in one direction: forwards. Consequently, roundhouses were built, containing large turntables that would rotate underneath the train, allowing it to change the direction in which it was traveling.
Roundhouses were designed not only to turn trains but also to store and repair them. The one at Pankow-Heinersdorf had 24 tracks running into it, meaning it could accommodate up to 24 trains at a time. Inside the covered roundhouses, the trains were protected from any bad weather.
On August 8, 1924, the station was officially connected to the electric Berlin S-Bahn line. At that time, new models of trains began to appear, which were much larger than those already running. Unfortunately, it was not possible to extend the existing roundhouse at Pankow-Heinersdorf to accommodate these larger trains.
So, instead, a semi-circular workshop was built in the northern part of the depot. This building could be expanded, if necessary, to accommodate even larger trains in the future. But although this new building was the right size, its turntable was outside the building. This meant that it was exposed to weather conditions, particularly frost, and so didn’t work very reliably.
The Pankow-Heinersdorf railway depot, with its roundhouse and water tower, was finally closed in July 1997. However, the station itself kept operating.
Over time, the rails running into the depot were dismantled, and the buildings were emptied. It took a while, but by 2007, the track system was completely gone and some of the buildings had been demolished. In 2006, several buildings were demolished in the southern part of the depot, but many remain standing today. The overpasses were demolished in 2008.
In its abandoned state, this piece of history attracts urban explorers, artists, and vandals. One blogger even claimed he found evidence of voodoo rituals as well as goldfish under the turntable.
Due to the fact that the Pankow-Heinersdorf roundhouse is one of the last two of its kind in Germany, it was included in the list of historical monuments. Unfortunately, that hasn’t saved it from slowly degrading into a very sorry state indeed. Inside the remaining buildings, the floors are rotten and the walls are crumbling. Graffiti and rubbish appear all over the place.
In 2009, the area was bought by Kurt Krieger, a business tycoon who owns a series of furniture stores. He planned to build a shopping center (with one of his furniture stores, of course) together with a large parking lot on the site of the former railyard.
At one point, Krieger joked about turning the site into an opera house. However, the current idea is to build a shopping center, a school, and some apartments. But the information box at the site, which details the potential project plans, is not only closed but also covered in graffiti, meaning that the future of the Pankow-Heinersdorf railyard is still uncertain.
If you’ve enjoyed reading about this piece of German railway history, then check out another of our articles about the Bayshore Roundhouse that forms a piece of American history.
A big thank you to DetKan, a photographer who took these beautiful photos of the abandoned railyard and kindly granted us permission to share them in this article. You can find more of his photos of this location via this link. Detkan owns a Flickr account where he publishes his works.
Related Article From Us: The Southern Pacific Railroad Bayshore Roundhouse