Among the Creatures of the Night (Central Bus Station, Halle (Saale), Germany)

Arrive by train at Halle (Saale) in the German state of Saxony-Anhalt, and you will find a stark contrast between railway and bus architecture, within just a few steps of each other.

The railway station’s main building, located unusually in the middle of the tracks rather than off to one side, has a Baroque/Beaux Arts appearance which is probably a little excessive by today’s standards. Designed by architect Friedrich Peltz in the latter years of the 19th Century, it has a four-sided domed roof; eight-sided if you take into account that the edges are in fact four narrow roof sections which run down to stubby towers (originally they had miniature domes of their own) at each corner. The roof is topped with a pyramidal lantern while on the front elevation a curved front window projects above the roof line and also contains a clock. The curved window is topped off with a little pediment and an even smaller obelisk on top of that, and there are other pediments adorning the central windows of the bays on either side.

Hauptbahnhof Halle (Saale), exterior. Photo by Hejkal at German Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 2.0 DE, via Wikimedia Commons

Although the external arrangement of its windows suggests it contains at least three floors, internally the building is open all the way up to the top of the roof.

Hauptbahnhof Halle (Saale), interior. Photo by Bettenburg, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

So unfashionable was its architecture by the 1960s though, especially in light of the socialist aesthetic ideals of German Democratic Republic, the whole thing was encased in aluminium sheeting, to present a more ‘acceptable’ appearance.

Hauptbahnhof Halle (Saale) in 1984. Photo by Bettenburg, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Fortunately (I think so, anyway) even the GDR seems to have decided that the aluminium boxing-in was a step too far and removed it in 1984, giving the station a light refurbishment at the same time. A much more substantial renovation was carried out, in a by then reunified Germany, in the early 2000s. That seems to have been the moment when the station gained a glass box extension to the front. The box blocks the view of the entire frontage of the original building, although even in its original state the building had a canopy which made getting a complete view difficult.

Anyway, this is all a bit of a distraction, because a more recent intervention in Halle’s transport infrastructure is the particular subject of this article.

Slightly to the west of the railway station is Halle (Saale)’s Zentraler Omnibusbahnhof (Central Bus Station) and although perhaps not well known outside Germany, it is a quietly incredible piece of futuristic bus architecture and engineering.

Approached from the tram stop to the north, this is what it looks like:

Zentraler Omnibusbahnhof Halle (Saale). Photo by Jwaller, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Its sleek, curvilinear structure presents an extremely modern appearance. Its style, similar to a lot of early 21st Century product design and reminiscent of the clean lines of an Apple store or one of Apple’s consumer devices, is actually quite unusual in the public transport sector (though not completely unknown, for instance at Drassanes Metro station in Madrid (The Beauty of Transport, 23 July 2014)). Commissioned by Halle’s local authority, the bus station was designed by Hamburg-based architecture practice BLP and opened in 2010.

The bus station is smart enough in the day but for maximum effect it is best visited at night, for it is the night-time that flatters this building.

Zentraler Omnibusbahnhof Halle (Saale). Photo by paul muster, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A clever lighting design makes this bus station look more like a space station during the hours of darkness. It wouldn’t embarrass itself in a big budget science fiction movie, yet here it is serving the municipal bus network in a small German city. Lighting strips run round the edges of the bus shelters and canopies, and are complemented by uplighters which shine on the undersides of the canopies, and spotlights which provide additional illumination in the waiting areas.

Six diagonally oriented bus stands serve local buses operated by HAVAG (Hallesche Verkehrs-Aktiengesellschaft). The waiting shelter at each one is essentially identical, differing only in signage. The waiting shelters  are formed from single flowing ribbon-like structure. It makes a roof, curves down as an angled end panel, and then makes a return to form a plinth for the slatted wooden seats. Full height frameless glazing panels behind the seating promote visibility across the bus stands while protecting from the weather.

Zentraler Omnibusbahnhof Halle (Saale). Photo by paul muster, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Super-graphics on the end panels display the stand numbers, primarily for the benefit of bus drivers bringing in their vehicles, being beyond the pedestrian route through the bus station. Stand numbers and destination signage for passengers are provided at the other end of the shelters, fitted into Y-shaped columns which support the ends of the shelters. Passengers are encouraged to move to and from the bus stands at this end, with dropped kerbs at ground level and a long canopy linking them above. With single-decker vehicles being standard across most of mainland Europe, the canopy is positioned lower than might be the case in a British bus station.

Zentraler Omnibusbahnhof Halle (Saale). The waiting shelters, Y-shaped columns and seating are well seen here. Photo by paul muster, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

At the south end of the bus station is a larger waiting room, which provides greater levels of weather protection. Its shape echoes that of the bus stand waiting shelters, with an angled back wall. The front and one side of the waiting room are fully glazed, while the other wall is clad in wooden slats, which also line the interior of the waiting room.

Zentraler Omnibusbahnhof Halle (Saale). The large waiting room is in the background, beyond stand 1. Photo by paul muster, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The main digital display board for bus service information is positioned just outside the waiting room and to mark this area as the heart of the bus station, a landmark elliptical canopy is placed above. This eye-catching piece of engineering was designed by Temme // Obermeir with structural analysis by Zapf & Co. This canopy and the longer one linking the waiting shelters have steel skeletons and are covered in PVC-PES membrane, as website PVCConstruct excitedly notes. This allows ventilation in the roof structure, but prevents birds nesting within it.

Curiously, although local bus passengers enjoy these stylish waiting facilities, longer-distance coach travellers are not so lucky. Additional stands at the edge of the bus station, served by long-distance operators including FlixBus, have no shelters at all.

Most unusually for a bus station, a scale version has been produced to complement HO gauge model railway layouts, by model railway company Viessmann through its Kibri marque. At a slightly gasp-inducing €895.95, it faithfully reproduces the lighting scheme which so effectively complements the distinctive form of Halle (Saale) Zentraler Omnibusbahnhof and which makes this creature of the night such a beautiful piece of modern transport architecture.

Bibliography and Further Reading

BLP (Birkholz Leiner and Partner Architects) no longer trades as such, but successor company Leiner Architekten has a (brief) project page for the bus station

Temme // Obermeier’s project page for its work on the bus station canopies

HAVAG’s downloadable pdf guide to services from Halle (Saale) Zentraler Omnibusbahnhof

…plus anything linked to in the text above

How to find Halle (Saale) Zentraler Omnibusbahnhof

Click here for The Beauty of Transport’s map

3 thoughts on “Among the Creatures of the Night (Central Bus Station, Halle (Saale), Germany)

  1. What a spectacular bus station, beautifully streamline in style. The HO model bus station price is eye popping. I got an O gauge model of Arrasmith’s streamline 1930s Evansville Indiana Greyhound terminal for $120.00 — I will confess that it doesn’t have illumination.

  2. At night my local bus station is – like many – a gloomy, oppressive place. Nothing about it feels welcoming. Nothing feels special. The complete opposite is true. I would rather wait for the bus at the bus stop a little way from the station because it’s atmosphere.

    Night time in bus stations seems to be a complete afterthought. If considered at all. As this shows, that needn’t be the case. That shouldn’t be the case.

  3. 🇩🇪🚍Zentraler Omnibusbahnhof has superb spaces and a unique Landmark Gateway. Yes, it looks most spectacular at night when lit up. The Supernumerals on the end panels displaying the stand numbers are clear and effective.
    The “Destination Signage” for passengers are clear too. Thank you Beauty of Transport for the detailed information on architects and urban designers. I am making a new list of good Public Realm and good Public Bus Stations in the UK (and Europe) to share with my architect peers. Your insights are very useful to Shaping the Omnibusbahnhof Station conversation in 2022. Danke Schon.

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