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Railways in Germany 1990-2020

"Next stop: the future"

20 years after the founding of Deutsche Bahn AG, the DB Museum opened a new permanent exhibition exploring the recent history of Germany's railway network. The multimedia display explains the huge changes that have happened since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

In many ways, the years following the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 represent a watershed, with the end of the Cold War coinciding with a series of no less momentous economic and social changes. Ground-breaking developments such as digitalisation and globalisation began to gather momentum during the 1990s and have since then had a tremendous impact on our lives in so many ways.

Starting into the present

Germany's two railway operators were deeply affected by the political upheaval – the nation's reunification was followed by the fusion of East Germany's Reichsbahn and West Germany's Bundesbahn. The government seized this opportunity to initiate a sweeping reform of the railways, and a new company was founded in 1994: Deutsche Bahn AG. While still a state-owned company, its business model was now largely based on commercial principles: in other words, DB was now obliged to fend for itself in a competitive transport sector.

Enlarge image A success story: ICE trains have come to symbolise DB and high-speed transport in Germany and neighbouring countries.

A success story: ICE trains have come to symbolise DB and high-speed transport in Germany and neighbouring countries.

Visitors to the DB Museum can find out what effects these changes have had on Germany's rail network. There are, for instance, a host of success stories: the launch of ICE trains in 1991 marked the start of high-speed rail travel in Germany, scores of neglected stations have undergone renovation and modernisation, and digital innovations such as websites and apps have enabled DB's customers to access more information, special offers and travel options. However, the exhibition does not shy away from more contentious developments, such as the dispute surrounding the giant Stuttgart 21 project and the closure of rural rail lines and stations due to changing social and economic conditions.

Strategies for the future

The second half of the new permanent exhibition about DB's future has one feature that’s like nothing else in the world. Taking a leaf from Star Trek's holodeck, the DB Museum has created a black room that uses a matrix of glowing white lines and spectacular 3D effects to illustrate the company's plans for tackling future concerns such as security technology, environmental factors and logistical issues in the era of globalisation. Six listening stations provide additional information and audio recordings relating to the topics covered in the video installations.

With its extensive use of multimedia features, this new section of our exhibition strikes an impressive contrast with the rest of our displays, just as the new Deutsche Bahn is different from the companies that preceded it. This section is also the final part of the large permanent exhibition we opened in April 2014 to illustrate the history of the railway in Germany from the Adler steam locomotive to the ICE high-speed train.