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Railways in Germany 1835 – 1919

"A century of steam"

The construction of the rail network had a radical effect on the way people lived their lives. The DB Museum explains how the arrival of the railways revolutionised technology, business, culture and politics.

Germany's rail history started out so modestly: the country's first line between Nuremberg and was just 6 km long. However, just under 80 years later, the nation's network was over 62,000 km long. It was a tremendous engineering achievement that entailed the transportation of thousands of tonnes of iron, wood and stone. Countless people laboured on this undertaking and were well paid for their efforts. At the same time, the expansion of the railways had a huge impact on the natural landscape.

Enlarge image The railways were a motor driving industrialisation in the 19th century.

The railways were a motor driving industrialisation in the 19th century.

The ever-expanding network of tracks reached into every corner of the country, creating new conditions for research, development and industrial activity. Better vehicles and reliable signals, standards and regulations all became necessary. The interconnectedness of the various operators and their growing number of employees turned the railways a political issue and resulted in the nationalisation of a large number of privately run services.
By the second half of the 19th century, trains had become a means of mass transportation. The railway encouraged huge population shifts and accelerated the process of urbanisation, with all the ensuing changes this had on how people lived. The new mode of transport brought countryside, towns and people closer to each other. Trains transported rural inhabitants to urban areas for work and shops, and trains took city dwellers to the countryside for weekend trips into the great outdoors.
From the very beginning, railways were of tremendous economic importance. Travel was a lucrative business, not just for rail companies, but also for hotel owners and tradespeople. Journeys were no longer the preserve of the nobility and rich: they became something everyone could afford. Trains became an integral part of everyday culture as they took the form of toys, were reproduced as decorations and roped into the service of advertising. No other technological innovation represented the new era and its sense of progress better than the railways.