The Müggelturm in the 1960s

Having visited the Müggelturm fairly recently, I was quite excited to see this picture of it by Günter Bittner, as I'd almost forgotten I had it. It appears to be from the 1960s, but the question is exactly when in the 1960s. Looking at the details throws up more questions than it answers.

The picture is a print on 6x4" paper. Unfortunately, it's matte finish, which is a real pain to scan, as it makes the shadows go all speckly. Still, that's not going to stop us taking a closer look...

A cement mixer and a pile of bricks

Some of the things in the picture really beg the question of exactly what's going on here. There's a large cement mixer in the foreground, with a large and disorderly pile of bricks around it. Precisely what the bricks are for is harder to make out, as I can't see anything in the picture that looks like it's being built.

Next to the bricks is a pile of other building materials - it's hard to make out exactly what (slabs and panels of some kind), but I notice there's a GDR-standard manhole cover among them.

Building materials, including a manhole cover

The manhole cover in particular suggests to me that this is more a case of serious initial building work than, say, repairs later in the tower's life. That said, the pile of bricks is very disorderly - more like something being demolished than bricks carefully lined up for use.

The fact that building work is going on might suggest that it's before its official opening, yet there seem to be a lot of people around it doing something. There are even tables out on the terrace, with people sitting at some of them, and people are up the tower too.

People seated at café tables

The caption to an image in the German Federal Archive (unfortunately not visible online, unlike a lot of the Bundesarchiv's images) notes that it was planned to have the tower and café open for the GDR's 12th anniversary on October 7th 1961. They didn't quite manage that, as the official opening wasn't until December 31st, but it does suggest that the building could have been nearing completion, at least on the outside, by October of that year.

The leaves on the trees mean it can't be December - though I've seen the trees in the Tiergarten keep some yellow leaves into early December, the leaves here look like they're probably green. The sun also seems to be too high in the sky for it to be winter.

The tree by the steps is around about the same size as it is in Bundesarchiv pictures from early 1962 this one for example), so it must be roughly around the same time. I can also find no evidence that building work continued into 1962, which would point to this being pre-December 1961, but I'd be very interested to see if anyone else has evidence that can either confirm or disprove this!

A group of people

A lot of the people in the group in the foreground seem quite young, which makes me wonder if it's a school party. An outing to see round the as yet unfinished Müggelturm, perhaps?

Everything I've read seems to point to the tower and café only opening on December 31st 1961, so it's quite possible that this is 1962, but then comes the question of what's being built. If we decide, however, that this is pre-opening, there comes the question of why the café tables are out. A mystery indeed...if anyone has any answers, I'll be interested to know!

I've featured Checkpoint Bravo and its surroundings a few times here on and, as you can probably tell, there's something I rather like about the place.

I was intrigued to read that it had been sold at auction on September 16th 2010, to an anonymous bidder who paid €45,000 for it. From reading the reports in the British press, it wasn't at all clear exactly what had been sold and, as I know that some people have been looking here to find out more about it, I thought I'd take the opportunity to clear up the details.

As avid readers of this site will know, there are two sites in Berlin which could be called Checkpoint Bravo, the newer of the two having some buildings which had been up for sale. As it turns out, it wasn't any of those which had been sold, but the site of the first Checkpoint Bravo at Albrechts Teerofen.

The Checkpoint Bravo site at Albrechts Teerofen

It failed to reach more than the minimum price, which suggests that there was only the one bidder. Hardly surprising, considering that the 1950s motorway bridge included in the sale has seen better days and will, I suspect, prove to be expensive for the owner to maintain (even knocking it down wouldn't be too cheap, I imagine). The fact that it crosses the Teltowkanal means that not making it safe really isn't an option.

The site was sold as a piece of forest rather than as buildings (the only building there is the rather dilapidated rest stop) and had no building permission attached, though there's nothing to stop the new owners from applying for it. What they'll do with it remains to be seen, though - whatever it is, it'll presumably have to be something profitable enough to maintain that bridge (and I can't imagine demolishing it being something that'll happen without protests from Berliners).

If you're interested in seeing it as it is in my pictures from December 2009, I'd suggest going to take a look pretty soon - who knows how long it'll stay that way.

In other news, it seems the architect Hajo Mattern has been working on plans for the rest stop building at the other Checkpoint Bravo site, by the A115 Autobahn. His suggestions for the site, according to an article in Der Tagesspiegel include a hotel with an American Diner on the ground floor, a club lounge on the upper floors and a roof terrace. He's apparently been talking to Holiday Inn, amongst other investors - Der Tagesspiegel has a mock up picture to show how it could look. I don't think any deal's been done yet though, so if you happen to be interested in buying it, or just want to take a look at some floor plans, you can take a look at the site that's been set up by Dülk Immobilien (the floor plans are under 'Flächen').

"Mr Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" By the time US President Ronald Reagan uttered these words on June 12th 1987, the Brandenburg Gate had long since been established as a powerful symbol of the divided Berlin.

The Brandenburg Gate today

Completed in 1791, built by Carl Gotthard Langhans (who also designed the spire of the St. Marienkirche), the present gate replaced an earlier structure, which was originally one of the openings in the excise wall built around Berlin between 1734 and 1737, where an octroi (local tax) was levied on items entering the city. It gained its name, Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate), from the fact that it stood on the road that led towards Brandenburg an der Havel. By the middle of the 1800s, the urban area had grown so much beyond the wall's boundaries that it became irrelevant. The new towns around the outside of the wall were incorporated into Berlin, new excise buildings were built on the roads leading into the enlarged city and, in 1870, the wall was demolished, along with many of the gates. The Brandenburg Gate is now the only one still standing.

Come August 13th 1961, it found itself on the site of another wall, only this time the gate didn't provide a way through to the other side.

Günter Bittner took this photo from the eastern side of the Berlin wall in its early days (I suspect around 1963), looking through the Brandenburg Gate towards the Tiergarten:

The Berlin wall seen from the Brandenburg Gate

There was no crossing point here - indeed, the wall was particularly thick at this point, in case of any attempted attack by tanks. The area leading up to the gate on the eastern side was designated part of the border defences, so even walking up to the gate was impossible (which begs the inevitable question of how Günter Bittner might have taken this picture...).

If you look carefully on the left of the picture, you'll see the viewing platform, constructed so that western spectators could take a look over the wall into the east. What would they have seen? This tourist's photograph from the early 1980s will give a vague idea:

The Brandenburg Gate in the early 1980s

Obviously by the 1980s, both East Berlin and the wall itself had developed a fair bit. The picture highlights a change of circumstances in the west too, though. No longer were the tourists flocking to a viewing platform, but instead weren't even getting out of their coaches, left to take pictures through the windows instead. The ghostly reflection of one of the coach's passengers in the window stands as a reminder of this.

The coach visible in the picture has 'Sightseeing tours BEROLINA Stadtrundfahrten' (Berolina is the modern Latin name for Berlin) written on the side, so is obviously one used for taking tourists around the city, as opposed to one that's brought tourists in from out of town.

A cheeky peek between the Brandenburg Gate's columns gives us a view into East Berlin, and something to help date the picture:

The Berliner Dom undergoing restoration

Rising up behind the buildings is the almost complete dome of the Berliner Dom - minus its cross. This would place the picture as being taken shortly before the lantern and cross of the Berliner Dom were completed, dating it to, I suspect, summer 1981. This would be consistent with the date stamped on some of the slide mounts - June 1981. The dated ones are Kodachrome and this one is Agfachrome, but everything seems to add up to it being taken around the same time.

A picture of this side of the Brandenburg Gate from this period just wouldn't be complete without this, of course:

Achtung, Sie verlassen jetzt West Berlin

It's the "ACHTUNG Sie verlassen jetzt West-Berlin" sign! This wasn't just a cruel joke (it means 'CAUTION You are now leaving West Berlin') - by going any further in that direction, you really would have been leaving West Berlin, as the border extended a short distance beyond the wall on the western side.

The quadriga on top of the gate is worth a closer look too:

The quadriga, with GDR flag

It was created by Johann Gottfried Schadow and shows Victoria, the winged goddess of victory. It was placed on the top of the gate in 1794, but taken to Paris by Napoleon in 1806 after his victory over Prussia in the battle of Jena-Auerstedt. After Napoleon's defeat at the battle of Waterloo in 1815, Prussian troops found the quadriga in Paris and brought it back to Berlin, where it was augmented by adding the wreath, iron cross and Prussian eagle to Victoria's staff. These additions link the gate to yet another important name on the Berlin architecture scene, because they were designed by Karl Friedrich Schinkel, architect of landmarks such as the Altes Museum and the Schauspielhaus on Gendarmenmarkt.

After World War II, when both the quadriga and the gate itself were heavily damaged, a new replica of the sculpture was created in 1957, as part of the restoration of the gate. Though the gate was in the Soviet sector, the restoration was a joint effort, and the quadriga was cast in West Berlin. The iron cross and the eagle were, however, deemed inappropriate symbols of Prussian militarism by the East Berlin authorities, so they were removed, as you can see from the picture (compare it to the one below).

You can just about make out something in the middle of the flag flying from the flagpole. This is, in fact, the hammer and compass emblem of the GDR - a West German flag would have been a plain black-red-gold tricolour flag (as used by present day Germany).

The quadriga was damaged by people climbing on top of the gate on new year's eve in 1989. The years had also taken their toll on in, so it underwent a full restoration in 1991, at which point the iron cross and eagle were replaced.

The gate itself underwent a further restoration between 2000 and 2002.

The quadriga today

It seems like ages ago that I last visited Platz der Luftbrücke, back in November 2009. It's the perfect time to return though, because interesting things are happening at Tempelhof...

The entrance to Tempelhof airport

The building was designed by Ernst Sagebiel in 1934, a suitably monumental structure to form part of Hitler and Albert Speer's plans for the rebuilding of Berlin. The shape, when seen from the air, is reminiscent of the Nazi Reichsadler (eagle of the empire) - the area which is now Platz der Luftbrücke was originally intended to be completely encircled by buildings, forming an equivalent to the Nazi Reichsadler's wreath (Wikimedia Commons has a decent image if you don't know the eagle I'm talking about).

Construction began in 1937 and a topping out ceremony was held in 1939, marking the completion of the building's frame. A celebration was held for the workers in the Deutschlandhalle, where 5000 portions of Eisbein - a boiled, cured ham hock - were served (there are more fascinating facts on its history in this letter from Ernst Sagebiel on the website of the Berlin Island Association).

It still wasn't ready for use in 1945, when war ended. During the war, flights continued from the old airport buildings on the site, which were destroyed in the war.
The airport found itself in the American zone and it was under American control that the new airport building became functional, the completed facilities opening in 1962. It continued to serve as a major US military airfield right through the cold war, as well as accepting commercial flights up until 1975, when Pan Am and British Airways transferred their remaining flights to the newly built terminal at Tegel. It opened again to civilian traffic in 1985, accepting mainly short haul and private aircraft, as the length of its runways limited the size of aircraft which could land there when fully laden (Pan Am 747s were twice brought to the airport for open days, but without passengers or cargo to shorten their stopping and take off distances).

Its crucial role in the Berlin airlift of 1948-49 earned Tempelhof a special place in the affections of many Berliners. This led to some controversy when it was closed in 2008 in a rationalisation of Berlin's airport facilities in preparation for the opening of Berlin Brandenburg International (scheduled for autumn 2011).

As I walk up to the main entrance though, it looks like the doors are open and people are going in. I stand for a moment to see whether the security guards on the door are checking for passes of any kind, but no, it doesn't look like it. I think it's time to have a look inside...

The entrance hall

This entrance hall was planned by Sagebiel to be the full height of the tall windows at the front of the building. A false ceiling was installed in the 1950s building phase, reducing the monumental scale of the hall but also, I suspect, making it quite a bit darker than intended.

A pair of young women peer round from a doorway as I'm taking the picture. They look at me and giggle, waiting for me to take it, before disappearing again. Well, ladies, if you're out there, you've achieved fame here on (well...sort of).

The check in hall

It turns out there's a design festival taking place inside. I don't have the time to look at the festival, but I do have the time to wander around the check-in hall a bit.

Like a lot of buildings of the era, its proportions are quite classical, but the lines are far more stark and modern. The shell limestone used in the building's construction is also quite typical for the period. Like in the entrance hall, the ceiling here is a 1950s addition.

It hasn't really changed an awful lot since the 1960s, though the small shop and the seating for waiting passengers has been removed. The luggage conveyor (a more recent addition) is now the only place left to sit.

Visitors sitting on the disused luggage conveyor

Compared to airports in a lot of major cities, Tempelhof is incredibly close to the city centre (roughly 5km as the crow flies to either Alexanderplatz or Zoologischer Garten). Its closure means a massive unused space (some 300 hectares) in central Berlin...or at least it did...

A cyclist on one of Tempelhof's taxiways

The airfield has been open as a park since May this year and now counts as the biggest park in Berlin. It would be wrong to expect a park in the traditional sense, though. While a small amount of work has been done to make the park ready for use by the public (some things have been fenced off, signs have been put up, a café has been put in and an area has been mown to be used as a barbecue area), it's still a disused airport and not carefully manicured parkland, or even idyllic wilderness. There is a certain feel of wilderness to it though, just more of the post-apocalyptic kind.

It's slightly unnerving to see just how close some of the nearby blocks of flats are to the ends of the runways. Apparently pilots got a clear view into the flats on the way in, which no doubt left the residents feeling glad they'd had blinds installed...

The park seems particularly popular with cyclists, who seem to enjoy riding round the taxiway that runs around the edge of the near-oval-shaped field and along the airport's two runways.

A cyclist relaxing on the grass

It's a bizarre windswept landscape, but a completely fascinating one, and one that's worth seeing before anything gets done to it - there's been talk of both re-landscaping and of building flats. The main entrance is on Tempelhofer Damm, opposite Tempelhof S-Bahn station.

The Bebelplatz memorial lit up at sunset

I'd actually had it in the back of my mind for a while to try and get a picture of the memorial at Bebelplatz at the right time of day.

Designed by Israeli artist Micha Ullman, the memorial - called 'Bibliothek' (library) - is a reminder of how here, on May 10th 1933, Nazis burned over 20,000 books deemed to be 'ungerman' from the library of the Humboldt University. The memorial is a room beneath Bebelplatz, lined with enough empty bookshelves to house 20,000 books. A window set into the pavement allows passers by to look down into the room, which is completely inaccessible.

Like the Stolpersteine, this memorial is something that can catch you unawares. It's not until you're standing very close by that you know it's there, but it has a way of holding people's interest once they've seen it.

Two plaques, at opposite ends of the memorial, with a quote from Heinrich Heine's 1821 play Almansor are set into the cobbles nearby:

Das war ein Vorspiel nur, dort wo man Bücher
Verbrennt, verbrennt man auch am Ende Menschen

That was just a prelude, where books
Are burnt, people will eventually burn too

In fact, there's a small mistake in the plaque - it says "verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen" which still makes sense, but isn't how Heine wrote it.

Anything which didn't fit in with Nazi ideals was targeted - from books on communism through to literature which was seen to glorify the decadent lifestyles of the Weimar Republic. The works of Jewish authors - Heinrich Heine included - were also among those burned, as were the works of prominent foreign authors.

Bebelplatz gained its current name in 1947 (before that, it had been called 'Platz am Opernhaus' then 'Kaiser-Franz-Josef-Platz' then 'Opernplatz'). It's named after August Bebel, co-founder of the Social Democratic Workers' Party, which eventually became the SPD (the current social democratic party, but one which, in East Germany, was merged with the communist party to form the SED, the country's ruling party). His book "Die Frau und der Sozialismus" (Woman and Socialism) was also among those burned.

I like this memorial - it's subtle, yet thought provoking, a place where people stop to contemplate and discuss.

An old Soviet snow plough on a concrete pedestal probably isn't the first thing you'd expect to find in a small woodland clearing by the motorway. This is the wilds of Berlin, though...anything goes here.

A pedestal with a snow plough on it

The pedestal used to be home to a Soviet T-34 tank, allegedly the first to reach Berlin during World War II in 1945. With the building of the new border crossing at Drewitz in 1969, the tank was placed here, its gun pointed straight towards Checkpoint Bravo.

The Soviets took the tank with them when they withdrew from Berlin in 1990, leaving an empty pedestal. Eckhard Haisch, artist and professor at the University of the Arts, decided to do something about the situation and, in 1992, placed the Soviet snow plough, painted bright pink, on the pedestal. It was added to the list of protected monuments in 1995.

Kleinmachnower Mauerweg sign

It's a short walk from either Checkpoint Bravo or the Drewitz tower (and indeed, it makes a nice round walk to do all three), but not so easy to spot, as modern barriers and trees partially hide it from the autobahn. It's on the eastern side of the autobahn, between Checkpoint Bravo and the Drewitz watchtower - following the 'Kleinmachnower Mauerweg' signs should lead you to it.

With temperatures soaring to 30°C, another walk in the woods seemed like the right thing to do...and I knew just the place.

Regular followers will recognise this place from December:

A panoramic picture of Checkpoint Bravo

It's our old friend Checkpoint Bravo, this time, seen from the bridge that carries the old Königsweg (King's Way) across the Autobahn. To the north of here is Berlin; to the south, Brandenburg, which was once East German territory.

Staying on the western side (that is, compass west, not political west!) and wandering down towards the south, the path crosses a wide path, with traces of tarmac.

The old Autobahn leading through the woods

This is the other end of the disused section of Autobahn which leads to the old Checkpoint Bravo. It's possible to walk all the way along it, but that'll have to wait for a less oven-like day.

A bit further down, on the edges of a business park, is a rather lonely-looking watchtower.

The Drewitz watchtower

This is all that remains of the Drewitz border crossing point - Checkpoint Bravo's East German counterpart. The border crossing point once covered the area between the tower and the current business park (and a little bit more), with large, open processing sheds for checking the contents of vehicles passing through.

The low height of this command tower allowed the guards to see into the sheds to check for signs of escape attempts. At the first sign of trouble, the guards in the tower could engage electro-mechanical barriers at the push of a button, to make sure the offending vehicle got no further.

The tower is run by Checkpoint Bravo e.V. (e.V. standing for eingetragener Verein, meaning a registered voluntary association). Three men sit outsite, baking in the sun. They seem pleased to see me - I get the sense that they probably haven't had many visitors today.

One of them gets up and shows me round the tower, pointing out its various features and telling stories of the times when the crossing point was in operation. The motorway outside, he points out, was only for military convoys, who were exempt from passing through the control point. He tells me of one man who got stuck in the middle of a convoy and ended up in West Berlin. He turned back the other way, but was given two and a half years in prison for his mistake.

He also tells of the small underhand beckoning gesture the guards in the processing sheds used to use to signal to drivers to come forwards. This worked fine until they changed the layout so that drivers could no longer see the gesture, leading to much frustration on the guards' part.

The man points out the original glass in the windows, with the typical GDR bronze-tinted reflective coating. Most things that were of any use to anyone were removed from the tower after it was taken out of service, but the glass was one thing that was saved.

The view out of the window

Also original are the bullet-proof steel plates towards the bottom of the windows, mainly to protect from friendly fire.

The man goes downstairs and, shortly afterwards, another comes up. He tells a story of how he nearly forgot to turn into the crossing point. He says the trouble was that, recognising that he was in a dangerous situation, the instinct was to accelerate rather than brake. Him accelerating would have been enough grounds for the guards to shoot.

After a good 40 minutes, I bid the men farewell and get off on my way again (though not before they've shown me their section of border defences, made up of all original parts). Entry to the tower is entirely free, but I drop a good handful of coins into their donations box on the way out. The third man suggests I go and take a look at the remains of the Soviet tank monument on the other side of the Autobahn. Sounds like a plan...

Out in the furthest reaches of Treptow-Köpenick, hiding behind a high barbed wire-topped fence, is another strange radome-topped tower on a hill. If you're thinking it looks like another cold war listening station, you'd actually be completely right, but it's one with a rather interesting background.

The signal tower on the Müggelberge, guarded by barbed wire

Back in 1954, with plans well underway to establish a brave new world of communism in East Germany, work began here on building a tower for the transmission of television signals. The plan was for a 130m tall television tower, with a viewing platform at 70m, to provide both clear transmissions of East German stations for Berlin and impressive views across the surrounding landscape.

There was just one problem: with Schönefeld airport nearby, it was realised that a 130m tower could present a serious threat to low flying aircraft. Building stopped in 1955, then work began in 1956 to make the building suitable for other uses, first by the Akademie der Wissenschaften (academy of sciences), who used it as an observatory, then by the Stasi, who used the 31m high stump as a listening post.

The plans for a television tower in Berlin continued, with it eventually being decided that siting it in central Berlin would both keep it out of the Schönefeld flight paths, satisfy all technical considerations and provide a suitably impressive centrepiece for the new socialist Berlin. The rest, as they say, is history.

The signal tower on the Müggelberge

The tower is now used by Deutsche Telekom as a relay station, which is why it remains fenced off. Fans of climbable towers need not be disappointed, though - I have just the thing for you...

The Müggelturm

I'll admit that this, the Müggelturm, doesn't look terribly inviting. It's been passed between owners since 1991, without very much being done with it. The tower itself was refurbished in 1996, with the help of money from the EU, but the buildings at its base - which used to be a restaurant - have just been slowly falling apart.

The tower is just under 30 metres high, but the height of the hill it stands on (the Müggelberge are the highest natural hills in Berlin) puts the observation deck at around 120m above sea level. You can still go up it to enjoy the view, by paying the 1 Euro entrance fee to the man in the little kiosk opposite.

The tower was opened in 1961, replacing an earlier wooden structure which had burned down. There's a great view from the top, so it's worth climbing the 126 steps to get there.

The view from the Müggelturm

The view of Berlin from the Müggelturm

There are currently workmen doing something to the restaurant buildings. Hopefully it'll be something to give the Müggelturm a new lease of life, but you can never be too sure what's going to happen...


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