Hidden in the shadows of Berlins Hauptbahnhof, lies a small park and a lonely staircase with trees growing out of it.
Unless you lost your way and somehow ended up underneath the railway bridge – or by off-chance decided to take a shortcut to the Paris-Moskau Restaurant (equally unlikely), Most people will have never seen or heard of this park. Even if you walked straight through – its grand past will go by unnoticed by most.
The truth is, that this Staircase is all what is left of the ULAP (Universum Landes-Ausstellungs-Park) – the former Berlin Exhibition ground. Despite being hidden and relatively obscure, almost everyone who has ever been to the Neues Museum in Berlin has unknowingly formed a connection to this little park.
*Warning – Historical ULAP Information*
In the need for an exposition ground, the city of Berlin decided to construct the ULAP in 1879 – Wedged in between the Lerther Bahnhof (now known as Berlin Hauptbahnhof) and the Alt-Moabit Straße. The first exhibition building was built out of wood – and it promptly burnt down in 1883. Having realized their foolishness, the city built a new gigantic palace out of glass and steel in its place, with several underground exhibition rooms.
When the new Messegelände (exhibition ground) and Funkturm (radiotower) were opened in the south of Berlin in 1925, the defunct ULAP grounds were turned into an amusement park of sorts.
In 1933 the SS erected a torture chamber in the cellars of the ULAP – which they operated right up to the last days of the war in 1945. The ULAP grounds was no stranger to Death though – after laying out some electrical wires in 1927, workers stumbled across 126 bodies. Apparently after the Spartacus League uprising in 1919, the dead bodies were just buried in the exhibition grounds. In 1945, NSDAP Party Minister Martin Borman and SS Doctor Ludwig Stumpfegger both committed suicide near the ULAP grounds. It wasn’t until 1972 that their bodies were found during construction work (putting to rest the rumors that they had escaped to south america).
With Berlin hosting the Olympic Games in 1936, the ULAP grounds were re-purposed and were now home of the Deutsche Luftfahrtsammlung – The German Aeronautical Museum, which was the largest aeronautical museum in the world at the time.
With the war intensifying, the museum was closed in 1941 and the exhibits were moved to safety in Pomerania. The ULAP suffered heavily under the Bombing Raids with little of the original structure surviving. With the defeat and occupation of Germany, the Soviets and the other allies decided to redraw the borders. Germanies eastern provinces now belonged to Poland and Russia – which meant that all rightful and un-rightfully acquired artefacts which the nazis had brought to “safety” in the east were lost. A prominent example of this is the “Berlinka“.
The inverntory of the Deutsche Luftfahrtsammlung had been lost, but the Technical Museum in Berlin has compiled a new Inventory of Airplanes with the help of photos over the years. While it is unclear what had happened to the majority of the Aircraft – a large part of the exhibits in the Krakau Aviation Museum have been identified as having previously belonged to the Deutsche Luftfahrtsammlung (German News articles here and here).
With the majority of the exhibition ground in ruins, the last surviving structures were torn down in the late 1950s to make way for the new Hauptbahnhof, while the rest of the area was used as storage space. It wasnt until 2008 that the surviving staircase was renovated and the remaining open space was turned into a park. A small panel on the far corner of the park gives a nice historical summary of the area.
I had mentioned above that while the park is relatively unknown, everybody who has been to the Neues Museum has seen a part of the park. After the Aviation Museum moved into the ULAP (in 1936), the staircase was renovated and 2 Egyptian style lion statues were added. The statues survived the war and remained in place until the late 80s. With the restoration of the surroundings and park – the lions vanished, only to appear on the grounds of the Technical Museum in Berlin.
After the Neues Museum – which had lain in ruins since 1945 – was reopened in 2009, what was to be found in the entrance portal? The two Egyptian lions from the ULAP Staircase!
So next time you pass by the lions in the Neues Museum, you now know that they once guarded the largest Aviation Museum in the world.
Like the Madenautomat in Wedding – visiting this staircase is only something for true obscure history lovers. The park, while being quite pretty when hidden in fog, is rather unspectacular. It’s just a staircase after all. Visiting the ULAP Park and staircase is best combined with a stroll through the remnants of the Moabit Zellengefängnis which is just around the corner (post coming soon).
10557 Berlin – Moabit
Public Transport -> Its right behind Hauptbahnhof, so getting there shouldnt be a problem.