Soyuz chic

GDR design

The sky was overcast but beginning to clear as we walked into the reception area at the bottom of the Fernsehturm, the famous TV tower. The tower rises in brutal Soviet modernity overlooking Alexanderplatz, the area which used to be the showcase of the DDR.

An illuminated sign said that there was no view to be seen, but I thought otherwise and the girl in the ticket booth was willing to take our money. We walked into the base of the tower, the interior of which resembles a set from “2001”, a space-age womb of ribbed curving walls and soft lighting. For some unknown reason, the cramped lifts were colder than any other area of the tower.

Approximately 45 seconds and 300 metres later, we stepped out into the observation lounge. The tower is basically shaped like a huge sharpened spike, with first a sphere and then a smaller cylinder impaled on it about a third of the way down. The part of the spike under the sphere is the usual concrete, the top part is painted in red and white stripes, and the cylindrical bit is fitted with a selection of dishes, aerials and microwave receivers. The whole construction looks like what you’d get if you crossed a Soyuz spacecraft with a giraffe.

The observation lounge is in the bottom part of the sphere, with its windows angled at about 45 degrees to the vertical. The glass seemed to be about a centimetre thick, and I had sudden visions of James Bond fighting some evil East German spy

XQ pointed out the various old buildings as the evil Communist spy gave Bond a vicious left hook, lifting him and throwing him against the window. Miraculously, the glass failed to give way. Quickly, the spy jumped up onto the window ledge, and he and Bond began grappling with each other as XQ indicated the Museum Island and the course of the river.

Bond eventually manoeuvred his assailant’s back against the glass, punching him viciously in the stomach. As the East German struggled for breath, Bond grabbed his trusty Walther PPK and shot at the corner of the window. The glass fractured and collapsed under the weight of the spy, and he scrabbled to grab the window frame to prevent himself from falling back and following the shards of glass in their lengthy descent.

A cold wind whipped in from the broken window as XQ pointed down at Marx-Engels-Platz. Bond smiled slightly as he walked up to the East German and gave him a gentle push. His grip broken, the evil Communist spy plunged three hundred metres to his death. I leant forwards and watched him fall, the statues of Marx and Engels in the background.

XQ finished her narration, and we decided to climb the stairs to the revolving restaurant. Ever since as a child I’d first read about London’s Post Office Tower, I’d wanted to sit in a revolving restaurant. Sadly, once the Post Office Tower had been declared an Official Secret for reasons of national security, the restaurant had been closed.

We found an empty table and sat by the windows, facing each other. Eventually XQ waved at one of the passing waitresses, and she tossed a menu to us with all the polite grace I had come to expect in the East. Even without the moody expression and air of “I suppose you can order something, if you insist”, it was plain that she was an Ossi. The over-use of tacky makeup and the slightly seventies cut of her clothes made it sadly obvious.

We scoured the menu for something that wasn’t too much of a rip-off. Eventually XQ settled on something hot, fruity and alcoholic, and I picked a coffee and some Black Forest Gateau.

When the food and drinks eventually arrived, they were surprisingly good. We sat and watched the world revolve around us, chatting about the various buildings that swam into view.

A lone sponge finger swept majestically past on the window ledge, a lonely confectionery digit seemingly raised in obscene salute towards the DDR buildings and statues beneath it. A couple of the buildings still had adverts for Skoda, Intourist or Berolina, no longer illuminated, but most had been torn down and replaced with bright neon saying Technics, Casio and Coca Cola.

I suddenly felt sorry for Karl Marx. What a fate, to have his statue in Marx-Engels-Platz, forced to stare at these bright symbols of capitalist victory 24 hours a day.