Higher than the Eiffel Tower, Berlin’s Fernsehturm is also the highest building in Germany. Standing a proud 368.3 meters in height directly at Alexanderplatz in the city’s center, it has also stood the winds of change that have swept around it during its highly-eventful 37 year lifetime. These winds have altered the face of Europe, but the Fernsehturm, at least externally, seems to have ignored the test of time.
Construction began in East Berlin in 1965 and the Fernsehturm opened “for business” in 1969. Not only had there been a technical need to construct a powerful transmitter for the East German capital, the communist leadership, finding itself in the divided city of a divided Germany, took every opportunity it could to demonstrate its power. When it was not doing so with its muscle, it used symbolism instead. The famous Funkturm Radio Tower in West Berlin had a height of 150 meters. The Fernsehturm would have to outdo this, of course, and so it was constructed to stand more than twice this height.
Communist boss Walter Ulbricht scrapped earlier plans to have the tower built upon Berlin’s Müggelbergen and decided in 1964 it be constructed directly in the city center instead, at Alexanderplatz. This giant structure, in connection with the nearby Palace of the Republic (another highly-symbolic structure) would form a representative axis of East German power that nobody could ignore. That the Palace of the Republic is at the time of this writing finally being torn down after years of heated controversy attests to the symbolic staying power of these structures. The Fernsehturm has in fact long ago gained the acceptance of Berlin’s population, East and West, and no one questions its past anymore.
“Besser iss es,” (all the better), as the Berliners like to say. They are known for their somewhat biting sense of humor and wasted no time in the past directing it toward the Fernsehturm. One of the favorite anecdotes of the period had to do with a certain reflection which can be seen upon the tower’s ball-like form on sunny days. The East German state made no secret of its atheistic views and the sun’s reflection upon the tower often takes on the form of a cross. The Berliner’s wasted no time in dubbing this phenomenon “the Pope’s revenge”. Rumor has it that the East German secret police (Stasi) interrogated the architect because of this and one angered communist is said to have taken his position on the reflection by replying “That’s not a cross, it’s a plus for socialism!”
A similar anecdote is the reference sometimes made to the tower as being “St. Walter”, an allusion to communist leader Walter Ulbricht. And the Fernsehturm’s somewhat unusual form has also given occasion for it to be referred to as the Telespargel (Tele-Asparagus).
But whatever one calls the thing, it is has found its place in the hearts and the skyline of “new” Berlin. Its interior got a general overhaul in 1995/1996, and some of its older technology was brought up to date. Approximately 1 million visitors enjoy the view from the observation platform here every year – or have a bite to eat at the tower’s revolving café-restaurant (one rotation every 30 minutes). By the way, on a clear day you can see up to 40 kilometers away.
It’s a 200 meter ride up in just 40 seconds, so you will have all the more time up here to enjoy yourself when you come to visit. And if you and your significant other are so inclined, you can even get married in the Fernsehturm. It’s become a bit of fad and is also quite practical, too. City Hall is just a short walk away.
But you don’t have to get married here to have a great time. Just don’t miss the opportunity of getting your view in when you come to Berlin.