Postcard from Berlin: Fernsehturm
One thing about Berlin, and a lot of the rest of this corner of Germany, is how relentlessly flat it is. One important consequence of this is that there are no Crystal-Palace-type hills to plonk a TV mast on, so a proper Post-Office-type tower is required instead. A massive 368m high, the Fernshehturm was East Germany's solution to the problem (and simultaneously a sign of perceived broadcasting superiority over the West). Construction began in the summer of 1965 and was completed in 1969, with the opening of a space-age observation deck and restaurant in the large Sputnik-esquesphere just over halfway up. Today the tower is one of Berlin's top tourist attractions, helped by the fact that you can see if from absolutely everywhere so it's impossible to overlook.
It helps to book your ticket in advance. Turn up and go tickets are cheaper, but bring the risk of a lengthy wait which may not be the best use of your valuable vacation time. We went the whole hog and booked a VIP ticket, guaranteeing a particular entry time and a perimeter seat in the restaurant, then ensured we were suitably ravenous before ascending. The entrance lobby is wilfully Sixties in design, with intersecting staircases leading to a check-in desk where (with distinctly uncommunist glee) we leapfrogged several dozen people who'd been hanging around far longer. The lift departs from a uniformly wood-slatted rotunda, rising rapidly up a shaft you can see throughout the ascent through the glass roof. The main observation deck is then a narrow outer ring at 203m elevation, complete with a bar should you wish for liquid refreshment while gawping down. You can't quite get up against the glass, and the window-side might be thronged with visitors, but that's the price you pay for not paying full price.
The restaurant up the stairs is a space age beauty and, best of all, it rotates! Take your seat to enjoy the 360° panorama, and by the end of an hour you'll have looked out across the entire city. That's so long as you got the window seat, of course - the two German ladies tucking into salads on the table inside ours were forever standing up and hovering to get the full view. And that's also so long as the weather's good. In low cloud you might see very little, but on our visit the sunshine was perfect so we could see for probably 50 miles, which is pretty much as far as Poland. Historic central buildings, endless blocks of flats and a smattering of industrial chimneys in the distance made for an entrancing accompaniment to our meal. The cuisine was tasty and elegant, and while you don't have to sign up for the full three courses you'll not get to enjoy two complete revolutions otherwise. At one point an opening in the inner wall revealed a grand piano ready to play, this immediately after the glass counter stacked with cake, and it was of course very important not to put your camera down on the fixed outer windowsill. We loved the experience. For those of us too young to enjoy the delights of the Post Office Tower's revolving restaurant, Berlin's Fernsehturm offers the spirit of the age (and a damned nice slice of lemon meringue pie to boot).