Places in Berlin

Footbridge, Bahnhof Friedrichstraße

If Berlin has a tear in its fabric, a trap door to an alternate reality, it’s here.

Suspended under the roar of the railway tracks at Friedrichstraße station is a footbridge. It cuts through the trussed deck arch of an 1878 viaduct over the River Spree. Don’t you feel the pressure? The countless bolts and beams, the pipes, the steel trusses supporting the arc– they all constrict and fragment. The skeleton flexes as the roar of train cars weighs down from above.


I find something comforting about being enclosed in the old infrastructure. Berlin is an exposed place with few moments of claustrophobia, a city where you’re easily blown from the surface. Here you are protected in the guts of the station.
The cage of steel is as mysterious as in a church whose arcs and altered light promise a passage to another place, a secret discovery. In come the reflections, from the carriage windows of the passing S-Bahn, train cars headed for Warsaw or Minsk, or from the parting waters around a boat slicing under. It’s a spectacle of lights, of winter breath condensed in a shaft of sun.
The glare is fragmented by the beams, and beyond are as many views to the arid pastiche of the riverfront as there are panels in the station roof just visible at the end of the snaking gallery. Light reflects dully too from below, where islands of ice move with stealth, hugging one side of the Spree, steered by a curve upriver. Another train rumbles, the reflections on the black steel speed one direction, while the winter drift floats under, with determination, in the other.

This is the place you might meet a Cold Warrior, a Harry Lime from the Third Man, a Jason Bourne. You’ll receive an envelope, a secret code, an address for the handover. You hope they will tell you where to find the secret passage you know is here. But the only person on the lonely walkway now is an old woman, bundled against the cold, a refugee. She stands at the midpoint with an accordion, a plaintive song.



The trains, the ice, and the woman all feel like invitations to depart. But where? I cross the bridge from the station, down to the opposite river bank, and back again, searching manically. It is a bridge, a passage between, but I do not know where it leads.


Joseph Pearson

Joseph Pearson (1975) is writer and historian based in Berlin. Born in Canada, he was educated at Cambridge University, UK, where he received his doctorate in history in 2001. Since 2008, he has written The Needle, which has become one of Berlin's most popular blogs. His portrait of the German capital, Berlin, for Reaktion Press was published in 2017. His second book, My Grandfather's Knife, was published by HarperCollins and the History Press in 2022. He is also the essayist and blogger of the Schaubühne Theatre, one of Berlin's best known state-funded institutions. His writing has appeared widely in the press, literary and academic journals, and has been translated into Italian, German, French, and Arabic. Having taught at Columbia University in New York City, he lectures in Berlin at New York University Berlin (since 2012) and the Barenboim-Said Academy.