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Reichsbahn and Bundesbahn 1945 – 1989

On separate tracks: the railway in divided Germany from 1945 to 1989

The new DB Museum exhibition showcases the fascinating period between 1945 and 1989 when Germany was a divided country. For four decades, two different German social systems were uneasy neighbours. Visitors can discover how the politically opposed nations shaped the two railway systems in the new exhibition entitled “On separate tracks: the railway in divided Germany from 1945 to 1989”.

With this exhibition on transport in a divided Germany, laid out in a space measuring 660 square metres, the DB Museum once again demonstrates that the history of the railway not only has a technical dimension, but also bears reference to politics, economics and society in a variety of ways. This is made particularly clear as the development of the Bundesbahn and the Reichsbahn is explored. In the free-market economy of the Federal Republic of Germany, the Bundesbahn had to compete with that new cult object, the automobile, while the Reichsbahn had to fulfil its responsibilities in the socialist planned economy of the German Democratic Republic.

The differences and commonalities between the two rail systems are presented in several themed areas. The dark side of the period is also examined, such as the way Germany’s Nazi past was insufficiently addressed or the role of the GDR’s state security service in the East German Reichsbahn.

From the driver’s cab to tickets: more than 600 exhibits make the subject matter tangible. At interactive stations visitors can explore the historical topics through games, for example, by trying out the reaction test for Bundesbahn employees waiting to receive their civil servant status. Interviews with contemporary witnesses from East and West bring parts of history back to life.

Enlarge image 1:10 Modell des VT 11.5, source: DB Museum/Uwe Niklas

1:10 Modell des TEE

In preparing for the exhibition, the curators and designers received support from young people in a unique partnership. The section on travel in East and West Germany was created as part of a project by school pupils at the Hans-Sachs-Gymnasium in Nuremberg, under the guidance of the museum's educational staff.

The exhibition also offers visitors a chance to time-travel in their own past and to discover the present. After all, many of the elements we are familiar with on the rails today, such as ICE trains and double-deck coaches, have their roots in the Bundesbahn and the Reichsbahn. The first digital ticket machines and the modern container, whose invention revolutionised the global economy, also came from the period when Germany was a divided country.

With this new permanent exhibition, the historical tour of “The history of the railway in Germany” is complete once more.