What Makes This 90-year-old Berlin Metro Map So Appealing?

An eye-catching 'scaly-dragon' map of Berlin's public transport system in 1927

Finding a Strange Map for this blog involves a lot of scrolling – and one full stop. As was the case with this map. Among a crop of merely informative maps and charts, there it was. Yes! It was love at first sight.

So what are we looking at here? A 90-year-old public transport diagram, apparently. The hand-coloured pastels and the modernist sans-serif font seem contemporary with the year in the legend. Which reads, in German: Traffic volume on elevated and underground railway lines, 1927.

The city is not mentioned, but stops with historically resonant names like Potsdamer Platz and Alexanderplatz provide a hint, even if you don't know much about German topography: this is Berlin.

Three lines are shown but not named: 

a red one, with two separate branches originating in the west (at Stadion) and southwest (at Thielplatz). The branches join at Wittenbergplatz, then meander through the city before ending at Nordring in the northeast.

the green line follows a similar pattern, with two smaller branches (from Uhlandstrasse in the west and Hauptstrasse in the south) joining at Nollendorfplatz. After a fairly straight course through the centre in direction east, the line bends slightly to the north to end at Warschauer Brücke.

the blue line runs from Seestrasse in the north to Bergstrasse in the south, with two spurs in the southern end: from Belle-Alliance-Strasse to the airport (Flughafen), and from Herrmannplatz to Boddinstrasse in the south, and Kottbusser Tor in the north.

The eye-catching, scroll-stopping quality of this map is not its age, nor the pleasing aesthetic of its carefully chosen layout. It's the animate quality of the lines themselves. They bulk out towards the middle, as if they were a lair of scaly dragons, dug up by accident.



As indicated by the legend, the map aims to indicate the passenger volume for the network shown, hence the bulky middle. The stretches between the stations are volumised according to the number of passengers. The volume of each stretch corresponds to a figure, which represents millions of passengers – presumably for the entire year 1927.

Naturally, passenger numbers are low on the outskirts of the network, and high in the central part. On the red line, between Stadion and Neu-Westend, the figure is only 0.6 million. That's less than 1% of the passenger traffic between Gleisdreieck and Potsdamer Platz, travelled by 61.9 million passengers – making it the busiest stretch between stations on any of the three lines shown.

The busiest bits of the other lines are between Französische Strasse and Friedrichstadt on the blue line (45.1 million), and 37.9 million between Gleisdreieck and Möckernbrücke on the green line (37.9 million). The figure is lowest for the stretch between Herrmannplatz and Schönleinstrasse (0.4 million). However, the line from that station to Kottbusser Tor is even thinner – and doesn't even mention a number.

This way of visualising passenger numbers between stations is problematic. For example, the stretch between Bülowstrasse and Gleisdreieck bends to enlarge the area indicating volume, while the stretch between Potsdamer Platz and Kaiserhof bends to reduce its volume area. As a result, the first stretch, with the lower number (57.6 million) appears much larger than the other one, with the higher number (60.9 million).

And that is perhaps why we don't see more of these scaly-dragon charts to represent volume along bendy lines. But even if it represents an evolutionary dead end, cartographically speaking that is, this map remains an eye-catching, scroll-stopping piece of cartography. Or to put it another, more depressing way: being pretty is no guarantee for survival. 


Strange Maps #864.

This map found here on the Twitter account of Lisa Charlotte Rost, a Berlin-based data visualisation professional. For a bizarre Cold War-era map of the Berlin metro system, see #513.


Got a strange map? Let me know at strangemaps@gmail.com.

Related Articles

Scientists discover what caused the worst mass extinction ever

How a cataclysm worse than what killed the dinosaurs destroyed 90 percent of all life on Earth.

Credit: Ron Miller
Surprising Science

While the demise of the dinosaurs gets more attention as far as mass extinctions go, an even more disastrous event called "the Great Dying” or the “End-Permian Extinction” happened on Earth prior to that. Now scientists discovered how this cataclysm, which took place about 250 million years ago, managed to kill off more than 90 percent of all life on the planet.

Keep reading Show less

Why we're so self-critical of ourselves after meeting someone new

A new study discovers the “liking gap” — the difference between how we view others we’re meeting for the first time, and the way we think they’re seeing us.

New acquaintances probably like you more than you think. (Photo by Simone Joyner/Getty Images)
Surprising Science

We tend to be defensive socially. When we meet new people, we’re often concerned with how we’re coming off. Our anxiety causes us to be so concerned with the impression we’re creating that we fail to notice that the same is true of the other person as well. A new study led by Erica J. Boothby, published on September 5 in Psychological Science, reveals how people tend to like us more in first encounters than we’d ever suspect.

Keep reading Show less

NASA launches ICESat-2 into orbit to track ice changes in Antarctica and Greenland

Using advanced laser technology, scientists at NASA will track global changes in ice with greater accuracy.

Firing three pairs of laser beams 10,000 times per second, the ICESat-2 satellite will measure how long it takes for faint reflections to bounce back from ground and sea ice, allowing scientists to measure the thickness, elevation and extent of global ice

Leaving from Vandenberg Air Force base in California this coming Saturday, at 8:46 a.m. ET, the Ice, Cloud, and Land Elevation Satellite-2 — or, the "ICESat-2" — is perched atop a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket, and when it assumes its orbit, it will study ice layers at Earth's poles, using its only payload, the Advance Topographic Laser Altimeter System (ATLAS).

Keep reading Show less