Above the U-Bahn station at Münchner Freiheit sits one of that rare breed, a piece of public transport infrastructure designed in the sleek style. If Apple built tram and bus stations, this is the tram and bus station it would build.
Brilliant white with lime-green highlights, this is an open-canopy bus station, rather than an enclosed facility. The 1500m² roof, which is triangular in plan, is supported on 18 hollow columns, although the underside of the roof flows into the columns without any distinct demarcation. The columns are split vertically into three segments, with the lime-green accents on the inside, and because they are hollow with skylights at the top, the splits allow natural daylight into the space under the canopy.
The tram/bus station looks especially dramatic at night, where three-armed light fittings which hang from the roof have spotlights on their undersides and uplighters on their top sides. The uplights bounce light off the glossy underside of the canopy, and combine with the spotlights for maximum effect.
On the upper side of the roof, not normally seen by passengers, the steelwork is finished in the same lime green that highlights the insides of the columns, and the mounds and hollows give it something of the appearance of a mini-golf course. But therein lay a problem, which I’ll return to.
The tram/bus station was built in 2008/09 to the design of Munich-based architecture practice prpm. It was constructed for city transport partnership Münchner Verkehrsgesellschaft’s (MVG) new Line 23 tramway in the north-east of Munich. Munich’s trams are single-ended, unlike most other trams which can be driven from either end. That means Munich’s trams need some kind of reversing or turning facilities at the ends of tram lines, and line 23 describes a “balloon-loop” around and under the canopy at Münchner Freiheit. It shares space under the canopy with local buses, and there is also an access point down into the U-Bahn station below. Service-wise, line 23 is isolated from the rest of Munich’s tramway network, though in practice there is a connecting track which is not used for carrying passengers.
The 1971-built U-Bahn station was itself modernised at the same time as the construction of the new tram/bus station. It now features a mirrored ceiling, lime-green walls, and illuminated blue columns. It’s an impressive job by industrial designer Ingo Maurer, who had worked on the Munich U-Bahn before, and it would be even more notable if it wasn’t overshadowed somewhat by the tram/bus station on the surface.
Münchner Freiheit won the UITP Local Rail Award for Stops and Stations in 2012. It was also made the site of Munich’s first “Mobility Station” in 2015, a concept which extends the traditional tram/bus/metro (or perhaps suburban railway) interchange to cover additional modes provided by MVG and city public services company Stadtwerke München. Car parking, car-share spaces, bike parking, a hire-bike scheme and electric car charging points were all added.
The provision of an aesthetically-pleasing, useful facility for bus and tram passengers, and the provision of additional transport options were not, however, enough to impress some local residents. Instead, when the tram/bus station opened, they instead complained about the bright green colour of the roof. Apparently, grellgrünen Reflexionsstrahlen (bright green reflection rays) caused headaches amongst the residents and turned the entire area a shade of green. You can read all about it in this local newspaper article from 2016, which reassuringly confirms that moaning about bold new passenger transport infrastructure isn’t a hobby confined solely to the British. The newspaper article claims the bus/tram station has structural issues, although a close reading suggests that these are in fact bubbles in the green paint. A legal action was launched by the landlord of a nearby building and while it was ongoing, the roof wasn’t cleaned, dulling down the lime-green finish. In December 2016, the government of Upper Bavaria said that the roof colour must be changed if the roof is cleaned.
As to what happened after that, I wish I could tell you, but the story seems to have vanished from news sources. As far as I can tell, the roof and the inside of the columns remain lime green, despite the grellgrünen Reflexionsstrahlen. Maybe the roof has been washed, maybe not. But being left to get dirtier and dirtier seems a sad fate for this most stylish of bus stations.
Bibliography and Further Reading
prpm Architect’s official webpage for Münchner Freiheit bus/tram station, here
Structural engineers Sailer Stepan Partner’s webpage on the construction of Münchner Freiheit bus/tram station, here
More about Münchner Freiheit Mobility Station, here
…and anything linked to in the article above.