Constructed at the height of the Cold War, the tower has achieved something few other East German buildings have: it’s become a building loved by all Germans. Next to the Brandenburg Gate and the strikingly modern cupola on the Reichstag, the spiky tower with a ball impaled on is one of Berlin’s most identifiable buildings.
It’s a joke of history that this tower socialist tower celebrates the same birthday as German Unity Day. When the TV tower first opened in 1969 after four years of construction, its opening was time to coincide with the twentieth anniversary of the founding of the German Democratic Republic.
Inside the tower’s ball is a viewing platform and a rotating restaurant that offer the city’s best view, which more than makes up for the expensive and average food. When the city was divided, the restaurant was a favorite place for East Berliners to gaze down on West Berlin and joke that, “if the tower falls, at least we’ll wind up in the West.”
The tower was the brainchild of East Germany’s communist leaders, especially party leader Walter Ulbricht, who wanted to celebrate the country’s engineering and technical achievements. Little did atheist leaders realize that the sun would cast a cross-like reflection on its disco ball-like sphere. Droll Berliners quickly dubbed the tower “Saint Walter,” though the communist newspaper Neues Deutschland also named the edifice the “tele-asparagus.”
At a cost of 200 million East German marks, the tower cost six times more than planned. And for a project designed to celebrate socialism’s technical achievements, the tower’s construction depended heavily on Western expertise. The special thermo-insulated windows in the ball came from Belgium and the elevators and air-conditioning were ordered from Sweden. West German steel maker Krupp produced the ball’s steel finishing.
Although the retro-Sputnik look of the tower seems quaint today, the tower still serves an important role. The red and white 118-metre antenna continues to broadcast over 60 programs across Berlin and Brandenburg.