New Publication: The Cultural Identities of Berlin’s S- & U-Bahn around 1989 in Journal of Historical Geography.

A little over a year ago I presented a paper at the European Association of Urban History‘s conference in Lisbon and I am really excited to say that its outcome has just been published with open access in the Journal of Historical Geography (published online ahead of the October 2015 print issue). I have been really impressed by all the efforts of the Journal and its commissioning editor Miles Ogborn and would highly recommend publishing with it. This might be expected from the leading journal in the field but I am still slightly shocked that a paper I only wrote and presented for the first time a year ago and submitted in February will make it into print so quickly. The efficiency of the journal is particularly satisfying in my case because it means that my article has been published in time for the 25th anniversary of German unification, the culmination of a process that forms a key foci of the article. Thanks to the support and Open Access funds of the University of London’s School of Advanced Study the article is available to everyone for free here:

Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-1989-1111-007,_Berlin,_U-Bahnhof_Jannowitzbrücke,_EröffnungThe reopening of Jannowitzbrücke U-Bahn station on 11th November 1989. Source: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-1989-1111-007 / Roeske, Robert / CC-BY-SA 3.0

For good measure here are the article’s highlights, abstract, keywords and acknowledgments:


•Examines infrastructural landscapes as constructions and constructors of identity.
•Shows how Berlin’s railways have helped create divided and reunified identities.
•Shows that while authorities stressed unification divides persisted in daily life.
•Analyses rail identities beyond nationality, single events and abstract characters.


This article analyses urban railway infrastructures as landscapes in order to reveal their role as constructions and constructors of collective and individual identities. It does this by introducing the notion of ‘identities in transit’, a rhetorical category that problematises the tendency to consider the nexus of urban infrastructure and identity formation only during discrete moments and in relation to abstract subjectivities. Specifically, it explores the (re)connections and (re)brandings that Berlin’s municipal railway infrastructure, the Stadtschnellbahn (S-Bahn) and Untergrundbahn (U-Bahn), experienced in the years surrounding the fall of the Berlin Wall, and considers their contribution to the formation of post-unification municipal identities. These discussions are historicised and contextualised by an account of the consequences of Berlin’s Cold War division on its transport infrastructure. The article then considers the subsequent impact of the city’s reunification and how the S- and U-Bahn became a means of constructing more unified municipal identities. It considers the process by which Berlin’s municipal railway networks were reconnected after November 1989 and frames this process as a metaphor for both the different durations and protracted process of the city’s reunification and the identities these gave rise to. Thereafter, the article argues that the rebranding strategy pursued by one of the city’s municipal transport authorities provides one of the earliest examples of an attempt to manufacture a unified identity for the New Berlin. The article highlights that while processes at the municipal level emphasised the unification of collective identities, experiences of the infrastructures themselves often involved persisting divides and forms of subversion and social conflict that highlighted the meeting of more diverse individual identities.

Key Words

Infrastructure as landscape; Cultural identities; Municipal railways; Berlin; German unification.


I would like to acknowledge the encouragement and advice offered by Lucy Maulsby and Carlos Galviz, the organisers of a session on Urban Infrastructure and Civic Identities that took place at the European Association for Urban History’s twelfth international conference on urban history in Lisbon in September 2014, where an early draft of this article was presented. I would also like to extend my gratitude to the attendees of that session, for their useful comments; the Association itself for granting the author a registration bursary to attend; and the staff of University College London’s Department of Geography, in particular Richard Dennis and Andrew Harris, and of Technical University Berlin’s Center for Metropolitan Studies, in particular Dorothee Brantz and Hans-Liudger Dienel, for their invaluable and continuing support. I would also like to thank Sandra Jasper for reading a late draft of the article and suggesting additional relevant references. Finally, I would like to acknowledge all those interviewed – especially Stefan Kohl – and the archive staff that contributed to the collection of the primary material presented here. This article benefited considerably from the enthusiastic and constructive comments provided by three anonymous reviewers and the Journal of Historical Geography’s editor, Miles Ogborn. Funding for this research was received from University College London’s Graduate School and the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) [A/13/70209].


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s