New Publication: Reviewing the Cultural Histories and Geographies of Public Transport in Berlin

As one grows older the years seem to get shorter, which may explain why I am already able to announce the arrival of my first publication for 2017! A while back I was contacted by the editors of Mobility in History – the yearbook of the International Association for the History of Transport, Traffic and Mobility, otherwise known as T2M (for a while during my PhD I served on this organization’s executive committee), and asked if I could review the state of internationally accessible cultural history and geography research on Berlin’s public transport. I happily obliged not least because at the time I had also recently received a request from a colleague in Berlin who for literature suggestions for an American student of theirs. At that point I had to reply that, surprisingly given the city’s current international popularity, there wasn’t much available for those who don’t speak German and then even that literature was not the most accessible. Thus this review article provides a point of an initial departure for those interested in the cultural histories and geographies of Berlin’s public transport networks while hoping to modestly encourage further research on the subject by highlighting a number of gaps in the literature that might be realistically addressed given the state of historic resources available in, and contemporary characteristics of the city.

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For example, I mention the potential to study the practice of S-Bahn surfing and its occasional reappearance in Berlin, a point that was reconfirmed recently when this amazing video of one of the city’s most formidable graffiti crews, Berlin Kidz was released on www.berlingraffiti.de.

Yes I was looking for any excuse to share this, but the video also interestingly highlights changes to the earlier forms of the practice which relied on the safety deficiencies of the doors of Berlin’s trains (something I explored in a paper I presented to T2M members at its conference in Philadelphia in 2014 and which is still awaiting publication). Now that these deficiencies are solved S-Bahn surfers have found new means by which to access the top of the train – in other words by leaping on to the train from the roof of station buildings!

Another area I mention in the review as prime for future research is the Berlin Transport Authority’s changing branding strategies and how these have aligned with broader city marketing campaigns (as most thoroughly discussed by Claire Colomb in her book Staging the New Berlin). In my discussion I refer briefly to one of the transport authority’s recent publicity videos – which I think is also worth a share here just for comedy value!

Anyway enough distractions – if you are interested in reading the review article in its entirity you can check it out here.

Thanks to the yearbook’s editors and the three anonymous reviewers for all their advice!

 

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