From Berlin: An Amusing Tale of the Clashing of Symbols

This past summer Mollie and I spent three wonderful weeks in Northern Germany. In the course of a three-day adventure in Berlin, our dear German hosts shared an amusing historical detail that was new to me. In what was formerly communist East Berlin, there is an architectural structure rising high above the rest of the city. In fact, the Fernsehturm (TV Tower) is the tallest structure in all of Germany. The Fernsehturm was designed and built by the East German government as an act of psychological warfare in the 1960s. Of course it also served a practical function as a radio and TV tower. But it is situated relatively close to where the Berlin wall was located, dividing the free West from the East. The imposing tower literally looked into West Berlin when the city was still divided, and the people on the west side could clearly not ignore the tower rising up – a reminder of the threat of a political movement that had divided their country, and intended to overwhelm the planet.

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This photo is taken from Bernauer Strasse, a famous street where many East Berliners escaped into West Berlin, and many died trying. The vertical bars commemorate the exact height and location of where the wall once stood. In the distance you can see the TV Tower rising up. – photo by Scott Freeman, 2012

Younger generations may not be aware of Communism’s stated global aspirations, now that the threat is essentially gone. But those of us who lived through the Soviet Era remember well how intimidating it was. It is worth recalling some quotes from Communist leaders. From the outset, Marx and Engels believed that the inevitable “march of history” would result in the end of capitalism and class divisions worldwide. In 1956 Nikita Khrushchev famously told a group of Western ambassadors in Moscow: “Whether you like it or not, history is on our side. We will bury you.” Despite their belief in the inevitability of worldwide communism, Marx and other communist leaders clearly felt justified in helping the prophecy along by the use of force.

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A view of the tower from Alexanderplatz, during my midnight walk,
(see my previous post.) – photo Scott Freeman, 2012

Of special interest to me, even as a teenager, was the atheistic nature of Communism. It was supposedly a scientific system, (as though belief in God and the practice of science contradict each other.) Both God and religion had supposedly been utterly discredited by reason and modernism. Theism was expected to eventually die out completely as materialist rationalism spread around the world. Beginning with the “enlightenment,” a succession of thinkers had been making (incorrect) predictions as to when the demise of God and religion would occur. This idea of modernity extinguishing theism has been called “secularization theory,” and Communism can be seen as one manifestation of it. Churches in Soviet Bloc countries were often ushered out of existence in order to speed “progress” along. Khrushchev closed some 4,000 Russian Churches, and in 1961 promised to show the last priest on TV. Christians were banned not only from the teaching profession, but even from teaching their own children about God. Up until Gorbachev, political dissenters and Christians were considered to be mentally ill by the Soviet Government, and were institutionalized and “treated” as such

Perhaps you’re wondering where the amusing part comes in.

Well, the design of the Fernsehturm essentially resembles a large globe impaled on a giant needle. (Or a giant silver asparagus according to some locals.) It so happens that, on cloudless days, when full sunlight strikes the globe, a clear highlight appears in the shape of a cross. Not a plus sign. Not an x, but a shining cross. So what was meant to be an intimidating presence, not unlike the Eye of Sauron in Mordor, accidentally turned out to be a billboard for Communism’s most hated institution – the Church. At least on sunny days. If there had been an equivalent to the ACLU in East Germany, it surely would have sued the atheistic Communist government for promoting Christianity! GDR Officials tried in vain to stop the symbol from appearing by treating the metal. Nothing worked. Eventually the tower was nicknamed by the locals as “The Pope’s Revenge”.

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The irrepressible symbol showing itself again, amidst the rebuilding.
– photo Scott Freeman, 2012

The Berlin Wall came down in 1989 – 28 years after it was erected, and 100 years after Neitzsche announced that God was dead. Amidst singing and celebration, East and West Berlin were reunited. Berlin was remade the capitol of a unified and free Germany. Today the Fernsehturm has a rotating bar and restaurant inside its globe. Capitalist visitors can now pay to ride up and get a 360 view of the remarkable city that is Berlin, in the heart of Europe’s strongest economic power. I find that amusing.

Oh…and I should mention that God is alive and well in Berlin. I spoke with Him while I was there.

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2 comments on “From Berlin: An Amusing Tale of the Clashing of Symbols

  1. therollaway says:

    This is an awesome piece. Not only is the subject matter interesting, so was the fashion in which it was written. It was informational, witty, and overall a fun read.

  2. Wow. I love the specificity of your compliment. You pretty much nailed how I hope my posts will come off.

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