I talked to a friend who mentioned reading a theory about the placement of terminal vs passthrough train stations in Germany.

In this theory, the Prussians were responsible for this decision during the Second Reich. If a city was considered "friendly", it got a pass-through station. If the Prussians disliked a city for some reason, they made a terminal train station there, hoping to diminish its chances of becoming an important railway junction and thus subtly depriving it of economical and political importance.

According to this theory, later train stations were mostly built as pass-through stations, because nobody used the building of terminal stations as a political instrument.

Is there any support for this theory? Is it widely known among historians, or just idle musings of some popular science writer? If it is known, is there support for it, and how solid is it? What alternative theories exist for terminal stations?

Explanation of terms: A terminal station is where trains end, they cannot pass through it. The tracks enter the station building and end there. A pass-through station is one which has the tracks beside the building, and trains enter from the one side and continue on the other.

  • 1
    I would think that any "terminal" station can be converted in "non-terminal" just by adding a switchyard in the outsides of the city. Also, the theory of "friendly" and "unfriendly" cities inside your own country is quite curious.
    – SJuan76
    Jul 11, 2015 at 13:54
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    Note that even a cursory search at the wikipedia explains that, during the second German Empire, there were a number of different railways companies. And while it explains that they were progressively in the hands of the state, it does not meant "the German Empire" but the regional states (like Baviera, Saxony, Baden, etc.). en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…
    – SJuan76
    Jul 11, 2015 at 14:22
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    Not only Germany has terminal train stations. See the Wikipedia entry on en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Train_station#Terminus
    – jjack
    Jul 11, 2015 at 17:15
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    Seems like your friend was reading wild conjectures by random anonymous posters on 4chan's /pol/ or some such forum. Not only is the half-cocked idea of building terminal stations to punish cities ridiculous (why even build any station there if you don't want the city to develop?), the motivation of cutting off your own nose to spite your face is is juvenile. And yes, Imperial Germany was a country that styled itself an empire.
    – Semaphore
    Jul 11, 2015 at 17:24
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    @rumtscho: These objections are indeed not very "hard", but then, the premise of the claim is questionable in the first place. The main stations of Munich and Frankfurt, for instance, are traffic hubs, and both are terminal stations. Especially before push-pull trains were a thing, terminal stations were where trains started and ended, or at least had to have considerable breaks, and to some extent, this is still the case nowadays. Consequently, this is were passengers are likely to get out and/or change trains - i.e., an important railway junction. Feb 24, 2016 at 21:34

4 Answers 4


Your friend should look up "Anhalter Bahnhof", the grand terminus in Berlin. Berlin was at the time the capital of the German "Reich", and the idea the Kaiser would want to punish his own capital is a bit ludicrous. In fact the Anhalter Bahnhof, hailed as the "Gate to the South", was magnificent beyond compare and was used by Emporer Wilhelm II. for state receptions. Unfortunaltely very little is left (but should you ever come to Berlin, the Museum of Technology has a wonderful model of how Anhalter Bahnhof used to look like).

The German Wikipedia article on "Kopfbahnhöfe" suggests that they were build that way to emphasize the role of the city center (passengers could not simply pass through), which is more or less the opposite of what your friend claims.


Terminal train stations were built in continental Europe because many railroads connected only two cities in the early to mid 19th century. There were not many rail lines, and the stations built were terminal stations. As the railroad network increased, the terminal stations could not be converted to passthrough anymore.

  • You also have to factor in the myriad of other Transportation options...the most important of which is walking. I question the premise that a "Terminal" is bad for a City's economy. Certianly not true of Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan. Nov 25, 2016 at 16:55

This is completely nonsense.

  1. As @jjack mentioned in his answer in the mid 19th century the rail road net wasn't as large as today and connected few important cities, only. The advantage of such a terminal station was also that you can build it closer to the city. Terminal station today's disadvantage wasn't present in the past because of the usage of steam trains which must be replaced often. See:

  2. Here is a plan of the Stuttgart terminal station from 1863

In 1863 the Kingdom of Württemberg (with Stuttgart as capital city) was an independent kingdom (within the 'German Bund')

You can see that the plan for the station exists before Prussia had the influence within the HRE to manipulate the states within the HRE. Prussia had not this supremacy before the battle of Königgrätz in 1866 against Austria which let to the "Lesser German solution" afterwards (Bismarcks plan to form a German state with Prussia as leadership and without Austria). See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_Question

  • @MarkC.Wallace: Because the plan exists before prussia had the influence within the HRE to manipulate the states within the HRE. Prussia had not this supremacy before the battle of Königgrätz in 1866 against Austria which let to the "Lesser German solution" afterwards (Bismarcks plan to form a German state with prussia as leadership and without Austria). See: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_Question
    – wawa
    Nov 28, 2016 at 9:59
  • @MarkC.Wallace: done
    – wawa
    Nov 29, 2016 at 12:53

The Imperial German rail network, in the late 19 Century, was largely designed and financed to facilitate military mobilization. THus any terminal stations would have been designed as arrival stations for debarking troops, first in South Saxony and East Bavaria in preparation for the Austro-Prussian war of 1865, and then in the West Rhinelands in preparation for the 1870 and 1914 campaigns against France. The notion that any other consideration take precedence over military requirements would have struck von Moltke as absurd.

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