Rare Berlin Wall watchtower still standing tall
Walk from Berlin’s busy Potsdamer Platz along Stresemannstrasse and you likely won’t even notice one of the most menacing Cold War relics in the city standing just a few feet away.
Yet lost behind a pretty veil of sycamore trees and dwarfed by modern block buildings, there it stands like a gloomy sentinel—the last remaining BT-6-style watchtower from the Berlin Wall.
Until the November 9, 1989, collapse of the Wall, a pair of armed East German soldiers could be seen constantly manning the three-story-high tower, which stood steps away from the Berlin Wall.
The last standing structure of its kind in Berlin, the BT-6 watchtower (the oldest type of tower left along the Wall) has recently been restored and is now open for visitors to climb.
When the Berlin Wall fell, there were around 200 such BT-6 watchtowers and 302 watchtowers in total along the Wall. They were placed 250-300 meters apart, a distance that matched the shooting range of an AK-47 assault rifle.
Like the Berlin Wall itself, most of the watchtowers were destroyed after reunification.
Why save a tower?
The watchtower, which is located on Erna-Berger-Strasse, survives thanks to the efforts of a passionate, if unlikely benefactor.
“I want this watchtower to be a visible reminder of the (decades) of Germany’s tragic division,” says Jörg Moser-Metius, CEO of the Berlin Wall Exhibition, a private initiative that maintains and operates the site.
Born in West Germany, Moser-Metius moved to West Berlin in 1974 and has lived in the city ever since.
He personally witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989.
“Walls are no political solutions, not on the Korea Peninsular, in Israel or anywhere else, and every dictatorship will end one day with consequences for their leaders,” Moser-Metius says, explaining the message he hopes people take away from a tower visit.
An amateur historian, Moser-Metius first noticed the watchtower about 10 years ago.
At the time, it was totally obstructed by surrounding trees and had been left to decay.
“I researched the owner, which turned out to be the City of Berlin, presented them with a short idea for renovation and maintenance and signed a contract with the obligation to rebuild it within one year,” Moser-Metius says.
He entered into an agreement with the City of Berlin in 2012, completed his restoration and opened the tower to the public about six months ago. He says the tower now receives an average of 350 visitors a day.
The exact date the tower was constructed is unknown, but Moser-Metius says the East German government started building BT-6 towers in 1966 to achieve panoramic surveillance.
According to Moser-Metius, at least three other square towers from the Wall, each built after 1972, remain intact, as well.
Moser-Metius financed the BT-6 tower restoration himself.
He prefers not to reveal the cost of the project, calling it his “sweet secret,” but says the process was partially aided by local craft guilds and trade unions, who sent apprentices to perform restoration work under the supervision of masters.
Every day from 2-6 p.m. (excluding rainy days), Moser-Metius or one of his colleagues stands outside the gate of the watchtower sharing old photographs and stories of the Berlin Wall.
Taken around Christmas 2001, one picture shows the decaying tower, engulfed by the glass-walled high rises in Potsdamer Platz, with a cheerily lit Christmas tree on top of the roof.
Watchtower just the start
Visitors ascend two flights of tiny iron ladders, connected by a half circular landing, to reach the tower’s roughly four-square-meter octagonal cabinet.
Here, two East German soldiers would stand back to back in three shifts around the clock, one looking toward the “friendly” East side, the other toward the “enemy” West.
Visitors can lift heavy metal shutters under the panoramic windows, from which the soldiers would fire toward East Germans who made attempts to approach the Wall.
The opening of the watchtower is only a beginning point in Moser-Metius’s blueprint for re-telling Berlin’s history.
He brings up his plans for a theme park next to the watchtower, which he hopes will contain a 360-degree, 3-D reconstruction of the Berlin Wall between Potsdamer Platz and Brandenburg Gate.
Moser-Metius is in the process of fundraising for the park.
“Hopefully, this tower will serve as the conspicuous anchor for a park devoted to this particular mile of the death strip that once divided my own city and country,” says Moser-Metius.
He notes that the tower is located in close proximity to the former Checkpoint Charlie on Friedrichstrasse, the Brandenburg Gate and the Holocaust Memorial on Cora-Berliner-Strasse. Together, he says, the attractions might form a “historical path” of Berlin for tourists.
East German BT-6 Watchtower, Erna-Berger-Strasse, Berlin Mitte; open daily 2-6 p.m. (excluding raining days); €3.50