Kaiserdamm – The Radio Tower in Charlottenburg, overlooking the western parts of Berlin, was opened in 1926. It was an embodiment of urban modernity which attracted many foreign visitors and featured in English guidebooks and letters.
Berlin’s status as the up-and-coming modern city in Europe was embodied in the newly built radio tower in western Charlottenburg, on Kaiserdamm. An iconic Weimar and contemporary Berlin photographic motif, the radio tower epitomised new technology, chic night-life, and tourism. With its architectural nod at the Eiffel Tower in Paris, it claimed cosmopolitanism and an equal footing for Berlin in comparison to other, older European capitals. The tower was opened in 1926 to coincide with the third great German Radio Exhibition (‘Große Funkausstellung’, an institution which continues to this day). It was a construction by the architect Prof. Heinrich Straumer, who was also known for building houses in the English country-house style in Berlin Dahlem and Frohnau, affluent western parts of the city.
The radio tower sported a restaurant a third of the way up, which could be reached by an ultra-modern lift. It features in numerous paintings, postcards, and photographs of the time. The tower’s observation deck is 126 metres above ground and allows a sweeping view across the western parts of the city and the surrounding countryside. The construction weighs 600 tons. Although it was used for radio transmission only for a short period of time, its status as a tourist hotspot never changed. Britons visited it as part of the ‘modern’ round of sights to see in Berlin: John Chancellor, for instance, included it in every tour he suggests in his guidebook How to be Happy in Berlin (1929). Not the least of the visitors were writers and lovers Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf, who spent a memorable evening in the restaurant 55 metres above ground exchanging views on their relationship: ‘it was SUPPRESSED RANDINESS. So there – You remember your admissions as the searchlight went round and round?’, as Sackville-West wrote to Woolf on 6 February 1929. Gesa Stedman
1—Vita Sackville-West to Virginia Woolf, 6 February 1929, in The Letters of Vita Sackville-West to Virginia Woolf, ed. Louise DeSalvo and Mitchell Leaska (New York: Morrow, repr. 1985), p. 318.