TV Tower

by jonnywhitlam

East Berlin's iconic Fernsehturm

Berlin’s TV Tower can be seen from all over the city. When it was completed in 1969 it sat right at the centre of East Berlin, next to Alexanderplatz train station. This alone tells us a lot about Cold War politics – look at the equivalent in West Berlin – Zoologischer Garten station and the surrounding area. Covered in adverts, shops, with its most famous sight (aside from the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche) the spinning Mercedes logo. All of this right next to the world famous Kufürstendamm shopping street we can see that West Berlin was as much an over the top tribute to the capitalist ideology as East Berlin’s bombastic TV tower was to communist politics. Look at the TV tower as it must have appeared to the Westerners – this giant tower (still the 2nd largest in Europe) loomed over their city, celebrated in the East as an achievement of the people, the triumph of communism, and an ever present reminder in the West that you’re never too far away a life so different from your own, and a life you’ve been insistently told you should fear. Similarly it must have been teasing for Easterners, a letter inviting you to dinner at the top of the tower often meant an uncomfortable meeting with the Stasi (secret police), added to the fact that you get an even more uncomfortable view over the Berlin Wall, into a land and a life where your actions are manipulated by the money that you may or may not make rather than by whether or not the government’s private police force have chosen to make life for you and your family hell in the name of a better society.

It’s strange, before I reached Berlin I’d never heard of nor seen the TV tower. This is especially strange when you get there and see just how big it is. It’s iconic. It’s on all the souvenirs, in everyone’s photographs, people love the thing. Perhaps I look too much into these things but I think the reason it never reached such fame as the Eiffel Tower or Big Ben is because it was built in ‘the East’. News of the tower wouldn’t have been of much interest to the West outside of West Germany, and since it was built by the communists it would of course have been branded ‘ugly’ or ‘repellent’. Perhaps stranger still then that this symbol of East Germany, the power and achievements of communism is still one of the most popular attractions in exciting modern Berlin.

I took this photo on December 2nd 2010, just as the first snow fell on Berlin last winter. The snow came very thick and fast, and I was really fortunate to be able to pick so much of it out in this photograph. Especially as for my tastes I really was using the wrong lens (50mm f/1.8) for this kind of shot. However much of a cliché it is taking pictures of the tourists sites such as this one, the response to this photo has been great, so it was one of my 4 lead photos in my Social Spaces exhibition, taking the lead for the room on East German architecture. It’s one of those pictures I secretly hope doesn’t sell so I can ‘donate’ it to my kitchen.

If you’re in Berlin and would like to visit the exhibition it is on at Speakeasy Sprachzeug language school, 116 Boxhagener Str. Berlin (Nearest U-Bahn is Frankfurter Tor.) from June 24 until August 28. If you would like to buy a print of this or any other photo please feel free to send me an email (see contact).