Lonely Planet Writer

This resurrected train simulator is like a time machine back to Communist Berlin

Berlin is littered with remnants of its chequered past, with some being more treasured than others. One window into the city’s history has been quietly kept running by a group of train enthusiasts in an unsuspecting building in Marzahn, a neighbourhood in the north-east of the German capital.

Brandenburg Gate closed during period of the Berlin Wall. Image by Sparwasser/Getty Images

In 1989, during the “turning point” which led to the fall of the Berlin Wall, former train driving instructor Lutz Tannigel took a liking to a training simulator which was originally built in 1968 in Halle an der Saale, a city just outside LeipzigInstead of being scrapped, the machine was taken to Berlin and converted to educate drivers for the city’s S-bahn (suburban rail) trains. However, it faced an uncertain fate again when its technology became outdated. “We didn’t want to scrap it, it was too big for different museums – so we decided to found a museum group ourselves,” Tannigel told the Berliner Kurier.

View of the cab on the 477 Series. Image by Benjamin Wittmann

Along with fellow railway enthusiasts Linus Leißner and Tobias Hirsch, Tannigel has been keeping the machine in action and offering tours of the catchily-named Historischer S-Bahn Fahrsimulator BerlinThe experience of driving an East German train through the streets of GDR Berlin is complemented by video recordings of the routes, which were captured in 1989 by special trains and recorded on optical discs the size of vinyl records.

A view of the iconic Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin, Germany. Image by Jared I. Lenz Photography/Getty Images

Despite the team’s hard work, the aging technology is causing problems and requires constant upkeep. Tannigel is hoping to raise €6000 (US$7430) to keep the simulator running. “The technology is still working, but it is very old. We always have to fix something – and especially the old computer, an Amiga 3000, can break every day.” The team can be contacted for viewing appointments here.

Words: Ryan Barrell