Robert Hampton

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16th June 2012

Posted by at 5.23pm | 1 response | Out and About

Berlin FernsehturmIt’s hard to miss the Berlin Fernsehturm.

This striking piece of Communist architecture dominates the landscape in Berlin. It is 368 metres tall, making it the fourth tallest freestanding structure in Europe, just behind the Riga TV Tower and just ahead of Greg Davies.

It’s a long-standing joke that in films set in Paris, the Eiffel Tower moves around to be in the background of every scene. A similar comment could be made about the Fernsehturm and Berlin, but this time I think the effect is real.

When looking through my holiday snaps, it was amazing how many times the tower appeared in the background, even if I hadn’t noticed it at the time.

It overshadows the Galeria department store in Alexanderplatz:

Fernsehturm and Galeria

Here it is looming over Ebertstraße and the Holocaust Memorial:


It also pops up in the background at Tempelhof airport:

Fernsehturm from Tempelhof

Its prominence on the skyline is no coincidence, of course. Built between 1965 and 1969, when the Cold War was at its height, it was an unashamed piece of “mine’s bigger than yours” from the Soviets. It served two important purposes: an iconic structure which defined Berlin the same way the Statue of Liberty symbolises New York, or the Eiffel Tower represents Paris. Second, the TV transmitters fixed to the top of the tower were higher and more powerful than those in West Berlin, in an attempt to overpower the “enemy propaganda” broadcasts into the East.

Given that it was a symbol of the staunchly atheist Communist government, it’s slightly unfortunate that, when the sun shines on it, the reflection on the spherical visitor platform forms a cross shape. The phenomenon was nicknamed “The Pope’s Revenge” and was seized upon by Western propagandists – East German scientists reportedly spent millions trying to “correct” this problem, without success.

Fernsehturm Cross

On our second day in Berlin, Andrew and I decided to take a ride up to the top of the tower. The views from the top were reportedly excellent, and we concluded that it would be a good way to get an overview of the whole city. At lunchtime on Saturday, we arrived at the Tower’s ground-level ticket office to begin our visit.

Wikipedia mentioned that the tower gets a million visitors each year. It didn’t mention that they all come on the same day.

Queue at the Fernsehturm

There was a massive queue to buy tickets. There were self-service ticket machines dotted around, but they were all out of order, to the chagrin of one tourist who left his valuable place in the queue to try and use one. I passed the time by investigating the mural at one side of the room, which showed similar tall structures from around the world, including the Eiffel Tower, Empire State Building, and… Blackpool Tower.

The ticket desk was staffed by one lone staff member, who remained good-humoured despite the chaos. As we edged closer to the front of the queue, I heard her effortlessly switch between German, English and (I think) Italian depending on the nationality of her customers. I felt embarrassed at my own lack of language skills; I did German at school for GCSE, but that was 15 years ago and my vocabulary had deserted me. Beyond the odd “danke” or “ja”, I had nothing.

The tower works on a timed entry basis. Our tickets had a number printed on them, and we could only go into the lift to the top when our number was called. Our tickets were in the mid 1300s, so we were slightly disheartened to look up at the TV screen and see the number 897 displayed. Estimated wait time: 2½ hours.

I had looked at the Fernsehturm web site before leaving home and had seen that “VIP” advance booked tickets were available online, but had decided not to bother buying them. I was now cursing that decision. Fortunately the TV Tower people offer an SMS alert service which sends a text message to your mobile phone when your “slot” is approaching. Therefore we were able to head off and do something else (the DDR Museum, which I will cover in the next post).

When we got the text, we hurried back to the tower to find our number on screen and therefore headed straight for the lift. A sign warned of “security checks” and bag searches, but there was no-one actually on the desk so we walked straight past with Andrew’s backpack unchecked. I don’t think he had any explosives in there, but with Andrew you can never be sure.

The lift lobby was exactly as I expected a Communist-built room to be: an attempt at splendour while still feeling strangely utilitarian.

Fernsehturm lift lobby

We were wedged tightly into the lift with 20 or so fellow travellers, and experienced a bit of G-Force as we zoomed to the top – the lifts move at 6 metres per second.

We had already eaten by this time, so skipped the revolving restaurant and instead enjoyed the panoramic views from the main observation deck.

Jannowitzbrücke station, with S-Bahn and InterCity-Express trains passing:

Jannowitzbrücke station

Berliner Dom – literally “Berlin Cathedral”, although it is not actually a cathedral in the traditional sense (it doesn’t have an Archbishop). Note the group of protesters in the street to the left – this was a solidarity march in support of the Syrian rebels, which stopped traffic in the area for quite some time.

Berliner Dom

Rotes Rathaus (Red City Hall), where the offices for the Berlin city government and the Mayor can be found.

Rotes Rathaus

And last, but by no means least, the Brandenburg Gate (in the centre of the photo) with the vast Tiergarten public park, all 500 acres of it, stretching out beyond.

Brandenburg Gate and Tiergarten

Queuing hassles aside, I’m glad we persevered and got to the top of the tower. It was a great way to get an overview of the city, and confirmation that Berlin really is an absolutely beautiful place.

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One Response
  1. Pingback by DDR you having a laugh? « Robert Hampton
    19th June 2012 at 10:49 pm

    […] As mentioned previously, Andrew and I had a couple of hours to kill between buying our Fernsehturm ticket and actually being admitted to the tower. […]