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Photograph courtesy Philip Greenspun.

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Berlin Tower
(Fernsehturm)

Also known as: Berlin Television Tower
Built: 1969
Renovated: 1995-1996
Type: Tower
Maximum Height: 1,207 feet / 368 meters
Location: Alexanderplatz, Berlin, Germany
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E vocative of Kuwait, or Singapore, the Fernsehturm is a striking presence in the Berlin skyline. Its slender body and modest observation pod, however, allow it to be seen without overwhelming the other great architecture of the city. The tower's overt function was as a radio and television transmitter, but the underlying motivation was to create a powerful political symbol in East Germany that could be seen by the West. Originally, the tower was to be built in Müggelbergen, outside the city. But construction of this tower was abandoned in 1969 in favor of the new location on Alexanderplatz where it would be seen by more people. The Fernsehturm's main clients are the radio, television, and digital television transmitters located inside. Only one is inside the tower's capsule -- it is digital radio. The rest are inside the spire ("Tilgerpendel") which is divided into five sections, though only four are easily visible by the naked eye. The lowest level is for digital radio. The next two are FM radio. The fourth is analog VHF television, and the top portion for UHF analog and digital television. There is also a lightning rod at the top. In addition to its broadcasting functions, the spire also absorbs the force of the wind, transmitting it to several hydraulic stabilizers that then disperse the kinetic energy. There are two passenger, and one freight elevator that can take you to the observation level 203.78 meters above the ground. Or if you're adventurous, you can climb the 986 steps. Let's hope you never need to use the emergency evacuation slides located 188 and 191 meters above the Earth below. There are a number of other safety features. In an emergency passengers from one elevator can exit the rear of the car to enter the other elevator. To reduce the risk of fire, no open flames are permitted in the tower. Therefore the café only serves cold food, and the restaurant's meals are prepared on the ground floor and taken up by elevator. In 2000 the world learned what can happen when a structure like this burns when the Ostankino tower in Moscow caught fire and burned for days. The entire Berlin Television tower is 368.03 meters tall and weighs 31045 tons. The original elevators took passengers to the observation deck in just 40 seconds. They were replaced in 1986 with new elevators that can make the trip two seconds faster. The restaurant rotates 360 degrees in 30 minutes. The wind causes the tower to sway every seven to ten seconds.

  • 26 March, 1995: During a United Nations conference on climate change an acrobat tried to walk a 620 meter long tightrope between the television tower and a cathedral. He had to give up 28 minutes into the feat.
  • 6 July, 1997: Six activists from Greenpeace try to unfurl an anti-smog banner from one of the rescue platforms. Because of high wind, they do not succeed.
  • 26 April, 1998: Four parachutists jump from the 210 meter height.
  • 3 July, 1998: A man from Leipzig runs up 987 stairs of the tower in 5:56.08
  • 3 October, 1998: A German Telekom helicopter pilot was arrested. Police spotted him hovering near the top of the spire. He was taking measurements of the antennae power output -- a routing maintenance procedure.
  • 25 January, 2000: Two environmentalists climb up the tower and try to hang a banner protesting the construction of a dam in Spain. They also tried to erect a tent so they could extend their protest. Because of high winds and cold temperatures, they give up.

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