German radio exhibition fire 

29 May 2023


An Eye-Witness Account

(From our Berlin Correspondent)

Cover of World-Radio magazine

From World-Radio magazine for 30 August 1935

The fire which broke out in the German Radio Exhibition original hall (now called Hall IV), on Monday, August 19, at 8.23 p.m., destroyed the Witzleben transmitter and the television transmitters. At the time of writing the cause of the fire has not been ascertained. The hall burnt down to the ground in a few hours. The fire-brigade concentrated on saving Halls III and V immediately adjoining and succeeded in doing this. Hall IV was made entirely of wood, and, as there was a certain amount of wind, the flames shot right up the Radio Tower, which is only a few yards away, and set fire to the restaurant situated about 150 ft. [47m] up. A number of people were still up in the tower, but the firemen succeeded in getting them down after the first outbreak had subsided at about 10 p.m.

As the Exhibition closes at 8 p.m., most of the visitors had already left. The official report states that 26 people were injured. One of these died from his injuries on Tuesday morning, and a body was discovered on Tuesday afternoon, making a total of two dead and twenty-five injured.

Dr. Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda, arrived shortly before 9 p.m. on the night of the fire and took over command of the various National-Socialist Party formations which had spontaneously formed a cordon right round the affected area. Four hundred Labour Service men, who had been preparing for their act in the evening programme in Hall I — they acted as a Sprechchor (speaking choir) — immediately volunteered to help. The crowd of people assembled to witness the programme in Hall I, were asked to go home quietly, and luckily no panic ensued.

The flames could be seen for miles around, and the searchlight on the top of the Radio Tower, which continued to operate, gave a ghostly character to the vast clouds of smoke emanating from the burning hall.

I was on the spot twenty minutes after the outbreak of the fire, and was at first allowed to approach quite close to the flames. At about 9 p.m. I heard faint shouts, which came from the people still in the Radio Tower. Later, the streets were cleared, even of Press representatives, and it was impossible to judge from a distance whether Halls III and V had suffered damage or not. The television exhibits in Hall III had been removed as a precautionary measure. Most of the receiving sets in Hall IV were lost.

On Tuesday morning the Exhibition opened as usual at 9 a.m., but was cleared for an hour at noon to enable the remaining walls of Hall IV to be brought down by blasting.

Shortly after noon on that day, Herr Hadamovsky, the Director of German Broadcasting, broadcast a short address. He referred to the “lies broadcast by various foreign stations.” He informed his listeners that the Exhibition would continue, and, in fact, was already continuing, and that even the television exhibits would all be operating within twenty-four hours. I was again on the spot on Tuesday at 10 a.m. The work performed during the night was truly remarkable. Most of the television sets were already in their places again, and some of them were operating. Even Hall V, which had suffered most after Hall IV, was on the way to complete restoration. Luckily, these halls are built of concrete and steel, and that, together with the work of the firemen, probably preserved them.

Hall IV was completely destroyed, and with it the old 1.5-kW Berlin transmitter, which was still used on occasion as a reserve transmitter. The two Berlin ultra-short-wave television transmitters, one for sight and the other for sound, have also been completely destroyed. This will rob Berlin of its television service for at least a few months, unless the Post Office decide to bring the mobile transmitter down from the Brocken and operate it in Berlin, pending the construction of new transmitters. The destruction of the ultra-short-wave transmitter means that the public televiewing facilities will have to be discontinued. On the other hand, demonstration of wireless reception of high-definition television went on at the Exhibition. An auxiliary low-power (20-watt) ultra-short-wave transmitter was immediately installed.

“It is an ill wind…,” and the destruction of the Berlin television transmitters, although serious enough, may speed up the erection of ultra-modern transmitters, capable of even higher definition transmissions, in the next few months.



The Radio Tower itself, which is approximately 430 feet [130m] high, did not suffer, although the restaurant was completely burnt out. Reconstructional work will start immediately, and it is understood that plans for the reconstruction of Hall IV have already been prepared.

Looking back on the exciting night of the fire, the twelfth Berlin Radio Exhibition has had an unheard-of sensation, and those who know the Berliner will realise that, far from deterring visitors, the occurrence of the fire drew even greater crowds, especially as the fourteen firms who lost their stands in Hall IV decided to re-erect provisional stands either in Hall I or in one of the Exhibition restaurants, and therefore visitors lost nothing.

It is a remarkable fact that the German broadcasting stations did not inform their listeners of the fire until after the reading of the second news at 10 p.m. I inquired as to the reason for the delay, and was informed by the Drahtlose Dienst, which supplies the news for the German broadcasting stations, that they did not consider the event of sufficient importance to issue a special bulletin. The Vienna broadcasting station was seemingly the first to have the news, which it gave out at about 9.30 p.m. Listeners to the German stations did not obtain news and a full account of the happenings until more than two hours after the fire began. (Hall IV of the Radio Exhibition is within a few hundred yards of the Berlin Broadcasting House.) It may have been a commendable endeavour on the part of the German broadcasters to prevent undue disquiet by making no reference to the fire until later, but it produced rather the opposite effect, as Berlin listeners had to rely on foreign reports.

Inhabitants of Berlin could observe the fire for miles around, and they, no doubt, remarked the delay on the part of the German stations in broadcasting news of the happening.

The Exhibition was extended to August 28.


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