Berlin’s metro system, the U-Bahn, is a vast underground network that stretches across 90 miles and 173 stations. It carries more than 530 million passengers per year. The system’s expansive size makes Claudio Galamini’s Instagram project all the more impressive: he has photographed every platform in the entire U-Bahn network.
The project began after Galamini moved from New York to Berlin. “After riding the Berlin U-bahn for about three weeks, I started noticing the colors, art, tiles, shapes, lights.” He was particularly inspired by the Konstanzer Strasse station, which opened in 1978—an era that is reflected in its brown, orange, and yellow lines of tiles. “Stations built in the 70s are clearly recognizable,” he says. “They almost have a feeling of stereotypical colors, shapes from the 70s.”
It’s not just recent history either. “In many stations you can clearly see the time period. Some stations are rich with details (mosaics, columns, paintings—one stations in particular resembles a cathedral) to express the wealth of a particular borough or era,” he says. “Others are extremely minimalistic because Berlin was going through a recession.”
The city’s U-Bahn system also felt the impact of the Berlin Wall, which divided the city for nearly three decades. Many train lines pre-dated the Wall, so some of the West Berlin lines necessarily passed through East Berlin stations. These stations were closed and guarded, and became known as ghost stations. The guards were visible to the West Berlin passengers as the trains slowly moved through the dimly lit stations.
The former East Berlin stations built during the German Democratic Republic (DDR) are “extremely colorful, almost to fight the grey of the above ground buildings,” says Galamini. “Of course there’s a logical explanation for the colors—the stations are color coded for impaired citizens—but it’s still really surprising and amazing.”
Part of the appeal of Galamini’s project is his photographic aesthetic. Each platform is shot straight and devoid of people, so a viewer’s attention is drawn to design details like colors, fonts and tiles. “I believe that a particular person or moment in the shot would be just a distraction to the memory of the particular station,” he says.
The project took months to complete. In addition to the sheer slog of methodically traveling each line and disembarking at each station to shoot before moving onto the next one, Galamini also had to wait for the station to be virtually empty of people.
“It’s about long waits, being patient, finding the perfect shot,” he says. “The fun part is just discovering each station with the eyes of the explorer.”