Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin


On this day, June 12, in 1987 the US President Ronald Reagan visited West Berlin and made his eponymous Berlin speech – one usually put on a par with JFK´s “Ich bin ein Berliner” address of 1963. Here is a story of what many consider to be Berlin´s most famous edifice and the role it played on that day.

Did you know that when the sun shines directly upon the crown of the Fernsehturm a sign of cross appears on the side of the sphere?

The phenomenon, observed shortly after the TV Tower was completed, was promptly dubbed “Rache des Papstes” – the Pope´s Revenge. Which in a country rejecting all religious rites and symbols as obsolete and incompatible with the political direction was a kind of a joke made in heaven.

Because of the phenomenon and of the gigantomaniac nature of the project, the Fernsehturm was occasionally called “Sankt Ulbricht” (Saint Ulbricht´s Church/Cathedral) – Walter Ulbricht was the head of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany, the East German SED. The East German authorities, in an attempt to discourage the public from using the moniker, came up with their own, much cosier name: “Telespargel” (tele-asparagus), first suggested by the party-faithful newspaper, the “Neues Deutschland”. The popularity of both names was, however, limited.

As for the Pope´s Revenge, it made it into history books all around the world after President Ronald Reagan mentioned the phenomenon in his famous “Mr-Gorbachev-Tear-Down-This-Wall” speech of June 12, 1987. Standing with his back towards the Brandenburg Gate and separated from it by the Wall and as well as two bullet-proof glass screens, Mr President criticised the East German regime for robbing the nation of all kinds of freedom, including that to worship.

“Years ago, before the East Germans began rebuilding their churches, they erected a secular structure: the television tower at Alexander Platz. Virtually ever since, the authorities have been working to correct what they view as the tower’s one major flaw: treating the glass sphere at the top with paints and chemicals of every kind. Yet even today when the sun strikes that sphere, that sphere that towers over all Berlin, the light makes the sign of the cross. There in Berlin, like the city itself, symbols of love, symbols of worship, cannot be suppressed.”

Although Ronald Reagan´s speech writer made it sound like a form of a hysteric Frühjahrsputz (spring-clean-up) at the Fernsehturm, with the Stasi spies and party minions scrubbing the crown and splashing acid onto the miscreant surface, the East German authorities´ alleged blood-thirst was quenched by a quick investigation as to whether the occurrence was an act of political sabotage or simply an act of God… pardon, nature. They obviously did not love it but neither did they run around like headless chickens trying to make the mark go away and failing like Lady Macbeth did before them.

The cross was a fact and it was there to stay. But the East German spin doctors would not have been themselves if they had not come up with an up-beat caption for a potential press photo: they called it “A plus for Socialism”:-)


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