Zoo Flak Tower in Berlin: the Most Famous of Them All (Part 1 of 2)

 Part 1                      Part 2

 

"Badeleben" in der Nachkriegszeit

A year after Germany surrendered, the British Army was still working diligently to demolish the Zoo Tower. This photo was taken in what appears to be the early summer of 1946 and you can see the British still had a way to go before the tower was completely destroyed.

It was located where the bird area is today in the Berlin Zoo which is off the Kurfürstendamm (which splits to go around the zoo. Photo courtesy of the German National Archive)

The Zoo Tower was one of the three gigantic flak towers (Flaktürme) constructed to defend Berlin during World War Two. Hitler ordered the construction of these towers after the first (and very small) RAF Bomber Command raid on Berlin on 25/26 August. Only 29 RAF bombers constituted the attack force but this was a grave domestic political embarrassment to Hitler and the Nazis. The Zoo Tower was built close to the Berlin Zoo, hence the name, and is the most famous of the flak towers. It was the first one built and protected the government quarter in Berlin.

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The tower had formidable armament: four twin mounts of 128mm FlaK on the upper platform. Each barrel could fire 10 to 12 rounds a minute thus each twin mounted battery was rated to fire a maximum of 24 rounds a minute thus four twin mounts could fire as many as 96 rounds a minute. The guns were loaded electrically. The gunners carried the rounds from the ammunition hoist to the mounts and fed them into the automatic loaders. On the lower platforms were varying numbers of 20mm quads and 37mm FlaK batteries.

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While regular Luftwaffe gunners manned the FlaK batteries in the beginning years, they were supplemented as time went on with teenage “helpers”, Ukranian volunteers, and Russian POWs, these last given extra rations if they volunteered for this duty.

Although it is the most famous, the Zoo tower no longer exists. In 1947/48, the British Army blew up the tower complex. The ‘L’ tower was blown up on the first try. The ‘G’ tower required far more effort and dynamite than the British expected. Their first two efforts failed. The third effort took four months of preparation. Over four hundred holes were bored into the concrete structure. Those holes were then packed with dynamite. A total of 35 tons of dynamite was used in the third try which succeeded. The rubble was eventually trucked away, pulverized, and used to pave roads. The land occupied by the tower complex is now occupied by parts of the zoo, the smaller area of the ‘L’ tower now the location of the bird preserve island and the larger ‘G’ tower area now home to the hippopotamus park.

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The ‘G’ tower is what people are referring to in memoirs about the era when they speak of the ‘Zoo Tower’. It was an immense structure, being approximately 70 meters (230 feet) wide by 70 meters (230 feet) long. This equals 4900 square meters or ~52,700 square feet. Some examples: An NFL football field is 160 feet wide by 360 feet long or 57,600 square feet. A city block in Midtown Manhattan is 264 feet wide by 528 or 139392 square feet so 2.5 Zoo Towers would fit on each block. The Alamo in San Antonio, TX is 160 feet wide by 480 feet long or 76,800 square feet. The Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC is about 190 feet by 118 feet or 22,420 square feet so two of these could fit inside of the Zoo Tower.

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The tower had one cellar floor and six upper floors although it rose to the approximate height of a thirteen story building (39 meters or 128 feet). The second floor was used to house the most priceless and irreplaceable holdings of 14 museums in the Berlin area. The rooms were climate controlled including the Kaiser Wilhelm Coin Collection. The third floor was a hospital.

I think someone snatched the Kaiser Wilhelm Coin Collection after the war. Most or all of the artworks and other valuables were supposedly removed in March of 1945 but I think that the coin collection was stolen by the Soviets after the war. I’ve been unable to find the details of the situation and would enjoy any updates that someone might have.

[Football Stadium image courtesy of Wikimedia, Midtown Manhattan city block image courtesy of Design Boom, Alamo image courtesy of Wikimedia, and Lincoln Memorial image courtesy of Wikimedia.]

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: http://charlesmccain.com/

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