I love the U1. I don’t live on the U1, and I’ve never lived on the U1, but I love the U1.
When I was 14, I moved to Berlin. I didn’t speak a word of German. I had never had a sip of alcohol. I didn’t know what techno was or even what weed smelled like, much less the intricate distinctions between der, die and das. Let’s just say I had a lot to learn. I learned a lot of it on the U1.
A few months into my first year here, I went to a concert at Bi Nuu, the bar located in Schlesisches Tor station. My friend Lisa and I took the U1 over, asked older kids to buy us tequila shots (they can’t have been older than 18) and stood in the front row, prepubescent heads bopping and bodies swaying as San Cisco serenaded us. I felt alive for the first time in a long time. I’d come from suburban New York where I needed parents to drive me wherever I wanted to go. And the year before moving to Berlin, I had lost one of mine to cancer, making my social options severely limited purely by the lack of a driver’s license holding adult in my immediate vicinity. My dad worked 9-5 in New York City and I sat at home and stared at Tumblr. I thought that was the epitome of existence.
A year later, Lisa and I sat on the platform above Bi Nuu waiting for the train home, no later than our midnight curfew and slightly tipsy on two-euro tequila. Lisa taught me how to say Schlesisches Tor (Schlaaay, zeeee, schess, TOR), and we took the U1 back towards Schöneberg, our haven of safe and familiar in West Berlin. I watched the city flash by and felt happy to be there, looking down on the world from above. Now this was the epitome of existence.
The U1 is the oldest section of the Berlin U-bahn. The first train ran on the line in 1902, 110 years before I rode it for the first time. It currently stretches from Warschauer Straße in the east to Uhlandstraße in the west, cutting a straight line across the BVG map. 8.8 kilometers, 13 stations, approximately 20 minutes end to end.
My favorite station is Schlesisches Tor. When I was 17, I got my first ever job at White Trash Fast Food, the legendary American restaurant that had recently moved to Am Flutgraben. I was hired as a “bar runner,” which basically meant I washed glasses and was everyone’s bitch. Every Friday night I took the U7 to Möckernbrucke and changed to the U1 where I would cruise along the stations to Schlesi. I’d walk down Schlesische Straße, past the dealers offering me dirty drugs, headphones blasting whatever garbage I thought was worth listening to at the time. At work I ran around and made mistakes and even kissed a boy in the walk-in refrigerator from time to time. When he told me his girlfriend wasn’t home one night and asked if I wanted to come back to his place I pretended not to hear and ran across the street to Club der Visionäre, which would offer us free entrance after work. I danced would until my feet hurt and the sun rose and the U1 whisked me back West.
But sometimes it didn’t. There were months at a time when the U1 was consumed by “Ersatzverkehr.” A replacement bus would drag me from Möckernbrücke over to Schlesi and I’d make my trek to work. After I finished high school, I went on a five-month backpacking trip around South East Asia. When I left, White Trash still stood resolute and the U1 ran every day and every night, like clockwork. When I returned, White Trash was gone and the U1 wasn’t running. I got a new job at another restaurant on Schlesische Straße and waited for my skytrain to run again. I spent countless nights watching Skalitzer Straße for approaching replacement busses after six hour shifts and eight-hour dance sessions at Chalet or Ipse or Arena.
When I moved to Amsterdam for university there was no U1. No way to view the city from above and travel across the best parts of it, like clockwork. Amsterdam’s public transportation left much to be desired when compared to the magic of the BVG.
Upon my return to Berlin last summer, I was dismayed to find my beloved U1 under construction once again. Just one more thing that I love about Berlin had been taken away, this time not necessarily by the pandemic, but I took it as a personal blow, nonetheless. But by the end of March the line will begin once again, day and night, like clockwork. I won’t be using it to every day to bring me back and forth to my grimy bar jobs anymore, but my love for the U1 will never falter. It showed me what it meant to be young in a city full of possibilities. And therefore, I will always love the U1.