Joni Mitchell may have said it best: You don’t know what you’ve got ’till it’s gone. Or going.
When news first surfaced in November of last year that the Frohnau radio tower in northern Berlin was to be demolished, a few nostalgic residents spared owner and Deutsche Telekom subsidiary Deutsche Funkturm GmbH (DFMG) no critical words. But the gathering of thousands of spectators for Sunday’s demolition painted a much more accurate picture of the emotional significance of Berlin’s second-tallest man-made structure.
The blustery day only enhanced the impending drama of the scene: like devotees to a great pilgrimage, observers streamed into the yellowy no-man’s land behind Frohnau where the Berlin Wall once stood, plodding through muck and mud, weaving past dirt piles and dead reeds. Look-out points gradually formed: ridges in fields, mounds and trenches filled with people in colourful winter jackets, hats, hoods, gloves. Bikes and cameras. All eyes slowly settled on the 358-metre tower which, for many, had always stood there.
Construction on the Frohnau radio tower first began in 1977. Upon completion, the mast would host a radio transmission system to facilitate communication between West Berlin and West Germany. The first transmission to Gartow, Lower Saxony was sent on June 1 1979. The 20-square-metre room near the tower’s top became the highest closed man-made space in the EU.
That was a title it held up until Sunday. At 1:10 pm against a grey-padded sky, an explosion could be seen toward the base of the tower, then the sway of its pinnacle as the lower section of the structure twisted out beneath the greater 200 metres of metal and wood it had supported for the last 30 years. Within eight seconds, the gaunt, red-and-white-striped mast disappeared into the wooded landscape below.
For many, it was the execution of an icon – an object many West Berliners remember as the first sign of home on a trip from the north. A symbol of independence and pride, if for no one else, then for Frohnauers. But like most executions, while some observed in discomfort, others watched in eager anticipation. The Frohnau radio tower had stood as one more tired relic of the Cold War – a sometimes painful reminder of the historical divide that existed within the country.
With operational costs set around €50,000 a year, however, the tower’s fate was more a product of pragmatism than politics. And if nothing else, nostalgic mourners of the Frohnauer Funkturm have myriads of photos and YouTube video to help them remember just how it all went down.