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Walter Ulbricht suffered from the "Revenge of the Pope"

The state whose triumph the tower was meant to symbolize has long since perished.

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Walter Ulbricht suffered from the "Revenge of the Pope"

The state whose triumph the tower was meant to symbolize has long since perished. But the "Alex" still towers over Berlin at 368 meters as the tallest building in Germany. Along with the Brandenburg Gate, it is one of the city's main landmarks. Almost exactly twenty years after the founding of the GDR, it was inaugurated on October 3, 1969, and nobody could have guessed at the time that exactly 21 years later, on October 3, 1990, the second German state would become history.

However, the television tower in the middle of the city had been destructive for the SED leadership since autumn 1968 at the latest – at least when the sun was shining over East Berlin. This became clear soon after the external completion of the 32 meter diameter sphere, the center of which lies at a height of 213 meters in the reinforced concrete tower shaft. Because the approximately 3,500 square meters of the pyramid-like roughened surface reflected then and still reflects the sunlight in the form of a cross.

"Because there is such a wonderful, unplanned but imperishable cross up there," said the Berlin journalist Lothar Heinke in his instructive, although only second-hand illustrated book "Fernsehturm Berlin". Ulbricht took the immortal beautiful nickname "Sankt Walter" from the East Berlin vernacular. Another joke, even less popular in the Stasi state, called the cross of light on the sphere the "Revenge of the Pope".

It must have hurt Ulbricht's successor Erich Honecker when, of all people, US President Ronald Reagan, in his famous "Tear down this wall" speech on the western side of the Brandenburg Gate on June 12, 1987, brought up the unpopular reflection: "Before the When East Berliners rebuilt their churches, they erected a secular monument that dominates the city – the television tower at Alexanderplatz.”

Reagan continued, “Since then, the authorities have worked to correct what they considered to be the tower's most significant shortcoming; they treated the upper glass area with different colors and chemicals. Nevertheless, this area – which rises above the whole of Berlin – still shines in the sign of the cross when the sun hits it.”

With the redesign of East Berlin's inner city, Ulbricht wanted to set a monument for himself as the "centre of socialism in Germany". There, where in the 13th century the settlement on the Spree, which had just been founded, had been expanded for the first time, where the densely built-up old town of the Marienviertel stood until the night of the bombings of the Second World War, there Ulbricht wanted (just like his teacher Josef Stalin in Moscow ) to build a new heart of the city.

The GDR wanted to give the cleared area at Alexanderplatz station a new, metropolitan face. From 1961, the “House of the Teacher” and a congress hall were built, followed by an urban planning competition, which – of course – was won by a socialist “collective”. But the crown was still missing.

For this purpose, around a dozen older buildings on the other side of the railway viaduct up to the Spree, which had survived the war, were demolished. They had to give way to Ulbricht's "vision of socialist urban planning".

Despite the state patronage, the Berlin television tower was “virtually a black building,” writes Heinke, “because when the first excavator teeth bit into the ground at the beginning of May 1965, crucial state-certified documents were missing (but they were later delivered). The responsible architects, structural engineers and engineers had an enormous amount of paper with countless calculations, drawings and sketches: something completely new happened here.”

In fact, the tower, which was 365 meters high at the time, was exactly one meter per day of the year, a technical pioneering achievement. The boreholes in the often-maligned Brandenburg gravel reached a depth of 60 to 80 meters. "However, it should turn out to be an ideal building site here," said structural engineer Werner Ahrendt: "The gravel is not very sensitive to settlement, it is so densely packed that it can only be compressed to a very small extent."

In this way, the approximately 26,000 tons of the tower, about as much as 216 locomotives or 866 freight wagons full of coal, stand securely - and that, although the weight of the ball alone is as great as if "40 locomotives had been hung up there", emphasized ahrendt Nothing to the contrary has become known about the 50th birthday of the tower. So everything speaks for the fact that you can still see the cross of "Sankt Walter" shining over Berlin in the sunshine.

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This article was first published in 2019.

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