‘The name of the square? Are you sure it has a name? It’s just the square in front of the station, you don’t need to know its name!’ is the reaction of a young cyclist when questioned about Europaplatz. Perched on a bollard, a young girl wrapped in a winter coat shouts into her mobile: ‘I’m in front of the station Mum, on the car park side. Yes, by the bus stops!’ she adds, after looking around for the best description of the location.
Exciting name for a boring place?
‘The car park side’, or ‘the taxi rank side' is how most people arriving at the capital's station arrange where to meet. It’s true that, unusually for Germany, the sign saying ‘Europaplatz’ is rather discreet for a huge four-storey station. Not to mention the fact that the connection with ‘Europe’ is not immediately obvious. A passenger would only be able to make out ‘Europaplatz’ in white letters on a blue sign if, with time to kill, his pressed his nose against the glass of the exit door and looked up. It is almost as if Berlin’s local government regrets naming such a ‘bland and boring’ place after Europe, suggests a passing traveller from Hamburg.
Florence and Matthias have just got off the night train from Paris, rather dishevelled and blinking in the first light of the Berlin morning. This is Florence’s first visit to Berlin, and arriving in such a vast, almost limitless empty space has made a big impression on her. ‘I feel like I’ve arrived on a desert island after a storm, if that is what Berlin is like. Cool! This is Berlin’s vision for Europe!’ Surprised by this reaction, Matthias butts in: ‘The station was only opened a bit more than a year ago, just before the 2006 World Cup. For years it was just a normal Bahnhof in the middle of an undefined space. Give the Berliners and all Europeans time to make the space their own!’
Matthias finds the name well-suited to the place. Like the station square, Europe is a vast, spreading geographical space, a communication hub, a thoroughfare and a geopolitical space. It’s true - even at 8am Europaplatz is swarming with people. New passengers appear constantly on the pavement outside the station. Cigarette breaks, phone calls merge in a hive of activity. Some stop at the taxis waiting in line at the rank in front of the station, others cross the road and squeeze in between the fifty, maybe a hundred bikes in the special stands, to reach the bus shelters a few metres further along.
Buses leave the square heading to Kreuzberg, the multicultural suburb in the city’s south-east, Friedrichshain, the trendy east-end area or to Mitte, the smart centre of town, or even further afield, past the so-called Kiez (housing estates), guided visits to Marzahn, Pankow or Wedding. 'Europe Square' is without a doubt a nerve centre for Berlin, but only for Berlin.
Limited choice, to say the least
Before continuing on their travels, some feel the pang and stop for a snack break at one of the square’s imbissbude (kiosks). In the second car park, where buses park, four identical cabins have been placed side-by-side on the roadside. Do these kiosks give a flavour of the variety of international cuisine available in the city? Are they proof of Berlin’s view of a Europe without spatial limits, that extends into Turkey and Asia? Not really.
Standing in the empty square these outlets, with their kitsch decor and clichéd music, are just proof of fast food companies’ dominance of the market. The food is quick, cheap and filling but not overly tasty. Fancy some stir-fry noodles or almost transparent Vietnamese-style soup for two euros? Or perhaps some greasy chocolate doughnuts covered in sugar? That’s about all there is. Apart, of course, from the endless space of the square. The bus depot extends behind the kiosks and up to the Invalidenstraße, leading away from the station. Europaplatz has no geographical boundaries; like its namesake?
Cafebabel.com is exploring the meaning of Europe's squares and streets called 'Europe' across our cities. Each month we'll take a walk in one of those urban spaces, defining the relationship between it's name and Europe, its past and inhabitants, workers or consumers. Next stop: Viale Europa in Rome, 11 December
In-text photo: Europaplatz in Berlin - parking side (Photo: bldesign/ Flickr)