For a European capital, Berlin is surprisingly low-rise, with most buildings less than a few floors high. Thus wherever one may be in Berlin, one is never too far from Berliner Fernsehturm or Berlin TV Tower, the iconic building that has been standing guard over the German capital for well over 50 years.
Yet, it is only when you step into Alexandreplatz, the most popular cultural and touristic hub of Berlin, that you realise exactly how tall it is. Standing at the foot of the tower, I craned my neck, almost falling backwards, in trying to see the top of the building that stood in front of me.
I could barely manage to get a glimpse of the gigantic ball sitting atop the tower. Soaring over 203 m above the ground, the Berlin TV Tower was built by the then communist government of German Democratic Republic or East Germany, precisely for this purpose, broadcast communist propaganda and showcase the industrial and scientific prowess of the East Bloc at the peak of Cold War.
This much I had read before heading to the tower, but was curious to know more about this building, its architecture and of course its history. Luckily for me, almost as soon as I entered the tower and handed over my ticket as well as my overcoat, I was given a high-tech VR headset.
Putting it over my head, I sat down to get glimpses of the tower’s history, or should I say instead, that I got glimpses of Berlin’s history as seen from the tower. The exciting narrative, with many original videos and images as well as a lot of data, kept me spellbound all through.
I learnt many interesting tidbits in the presentation. The sphere of the TV Tower was intended to remind people of the Soviet sputnik satellites and was to light up red, the colour of socialism. Only one method was considered for the construction of the tower: the so-called ‘climbing formwork’. The inner steel scaffold grew a step faster than the outer concrete shaft, which was erected around the steel scaffold.
Another huge challenge for the engineers was how to mount the ball to the top. So they prefabricated the supporting steel frame of the sphere on the ground. The segments were lifted up with cranes and attached to the ring-shaped platform that forms the final section of the concrete shaft.
Having seen the history of the city and the tower where I was, I proceeded towards an elevator that would take me rapidly, in under 40 seconds, to the top, at 203m where the observation deck and Bar 203 are situated.
After walking around the observation deck and getting glimpses of the city below, I headed even higher up, climbing four metres more to the restaurant at 207 m. Here, the experience got even more interesting as I stepped on to a revolving restaurant where one can take a seat and literally watch the world go by, in circles, as you sip on your favourite beverage.
Even though it was snowing outside, I opted for the bubbly, along with smoked salmon served with potato hash browns, dill sauce and lettuce hearts. Sipping the champagne and relishing the salmon, I began to enjoy the view outside. Fortunately, I had opted to visit the tower late in the afternoon. So, I watched an exciting play between a setting sun and a few clouds. Soon afterwards, the city lights came on, giving an entirely different hue and tone to the view outside.
As the tower is located in the heart of the city, almost on the dividing line between what was East and West Berlin earlier, the Fernsehturm offers a unique 360-degree panoramic view over the skyline of the German capital. It is said that on exceptionally clear days, it is possible upto 80 km away. Sitting there, I got carried away a distance far bigger than that. I was lost in my thoughts, even as I watched the city go round in circles in front of me.
Long after I had polished off the salmon and the salad and drunk the last drop of champagne, I reluctantly got up from my seat to come back into the real world and headed down, back to the elevator to take me down, ending my odyssey with Berlin and its iconic monument.