Ivory tower goes poof

A tower both loathed and beloved re­cently went up in dust in the heart of Frank­furt.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - LIVING -

iT IS rather sur­real to sit back and watch a 116m tall build­ing fall in a city of skyscrap­ers, to the cheers of an es­ti­mated 30,000 on­look­ers. Es­pe­cially post-9/11.

But that was ex­actly what hap­pened two Sun­days ago here in down­town Frank­furt to the 32-storey AfE Tower (AfE is the acro­nym for Abteilung für Erziehungswis­senschaft or Depart­ment of Ped­a­gogy). Once part of the cam­pus of the city’s Jo­hann Wolf­gang von Goethe Univer­sity, it was re­duced to rub­ble within 10 sec­onds us­ing 950kg of ex­plo­sives.

Touted as the largest ever con­trolled ex­plo­sion in Europe, the en­tire un­der­tak­ing in­volved pre­ci­sion plan­ning, with weights, counts and mea­sure­ments that would have thrilled a statis­ti­cian!

Even the news re­ports that fol­lowed couldn’t re­sist spew­ing fig­ures. The 50,000 ton build­ing was brought down with ex­plo­sives stuffed into 1,500 holes drilled into its walls. Given that it stood right smack in the cen­tre of town, can­is­ters con­tain­ing 1,000 litres of wa­ter each, were also blown up with the build­ing to help ab­sorb as much dust as pos­si­ble. Six-me­tre high bar­ri­ers were erected around the sky­scraper to pre­vent dam­age to nearby con­struc­tions.

With so much at risk, I wouldn’t have wanted to be in the shoes of ex­plo­sives ex­pert Ed­uard Reisch, who had headed the mis­sion.

“It is al­most 100% im­pos­si­ble to blow up such a build­ing with­out hurt­ing peo­ple or neigh­bour­ing build­ings,” he was re­ported to have said. Hence, footage of him clench­ing his fist and hoot­ing in hap­pi­ness right af­ter the en­tire un­der­tak­ing is un­der­stand­able given that nei­ther dam­age nor in­jury was re­ported.

Yet, it was an un­der­stand­ably bit­ter­sweet ex­pe­ri­ence for for­mer alumni (in­clud­ing my bet­ter half) who had stud­ied in this build­ing nick­named the “Ivory Tower” – an ironic name for a build­ing that was pretty much a white ele­phant from the time of its con­struc­tion.

The plan­ning and con­struc­tion of the tower, which once briefly held the ti­tle of Frank­furt’s tallest build­ing, be­gan in the early 1960s and was com­pleted in 1972. It housed the de­part­ments of So­cial Sciences and Ed­u­ca­tion. Hence the “Ivory Tower” ref­er­ence to the stu­dents who ap­par­ently de­voted time here to deeper pur­suits for hu­man­ity’s bet­ter­ment in­stead of be­ing dis­tracted by more mun­dane mat­ters.

How­ever, its funky ar­chi­tec­ture which fea­tured rooms of dif­fer­ent heights on dif­fer­ent wings, ne­ces­si­tated the con­struc­tion of a com­pli­cated sys­tem of stair­cases and spilt lev­els that proved to be a night­mare for those lack­ing ori­en­ta­tion.

For in­stance, if you needed to get to the 18th floor, you had to take the lift to the 20th and then walk down two flights of stairs. Yes, not the most ef­fi­cient of de­signs.

While it was de­signed for 2,500 stu­dents, the ac­tual num­bers far sur­passed that, re­sult­ing in long queues for the build­ing’s seven lifts. Re­ports state that wait­ing pe­ri­ods for lifts av­er­aged at 20 min­utes: bad news for the tardy!

In Au­gust 2005, a Univer­sity em­ployee was killed when she tried to exit her lift that had got­ten stuck be­tween two floors. Ques­tions re­main if this was due to hu­man er­ror or a fun­da­men­tal flaw in the build­ing it­self.

It steadily went into a state of dis­re­pair over time and be­came known for its graf­fiti cov­ered walls and over­all ap­pear­ance of a build­ing un­fit for hu­man habi­ta­tion, let alone study. Hence, the de­ci­sion to de­mol­ish it.

Yet for all its faults, the tower came to rep­re­sent the ideal­ism of the young minds that came here full of hope to ac­tu­ally make the world a bet­ter place. It also be­came a sym­bol of stu­dent protests that of­ten took place here, sim­ply be­cause the way it was built made it easy to be sealed off com­pletely with lit­tle ef­fort. For­mer alumni in­clude jour­nal­ists from sev­eral renowned Ger­man news­pa­pers who rem­i­nisced about their time in the tower, de­scrib­ing it vary­ingly from “Tower of the Do-good­ers” to the “place to love, fight, think and cel­e­brate.”

My pen­sive hus­band sim­ply stated, “It’s the end of an era.”

We had orig­i­nally planned to go watch the im­plo­sion “live” with our neigh­bours up­stairs, one of whom is a state ar­chi­tect. How­ever, with talk of pos­si­ble as­bestos is­sues, my hus­band and I thought bet­ter of it and de­cided to watch the live stream from home.

In­ter­est­ingly, one of the tower’s neigh­bour­ing build­ings is the Senck­en­berg Mu­seum, one of Ger­many’s largest nat­u­ral his­tory mu­se­ums that fea­tures at its en­trance a 4m tall and 13m long Tyran­nosaurus rex (model, of course!). Shortly be­fore the im­plo­sion, I had joked to my hus­band that the T-rex wouldn’t be too pleased to be smoth­ered in dust! The crit­ter even­tu­ally made the head­lines of the lo­cal Frank­furter Rund­schau’s cov­er­age, which claimed the T-rex got the best view.

Re­gard­less of van­tage point though, the fall of the AfE Tower was nev­er­the­less a white-knuckle ex­pe­ri­ence. As the count­down be­gan, we held our breath and then, poof went the Ivory Tower. The 32-storey afe Tower in Frank­furt is re­duced to rub­ble with the help of

950kg of ex­plo­sives. – ePa

And amidst the cheers of the crowd in the live stream, I heard a soft snif­fle be­side me.

Brenda Bene­dict is a Malaysian liv­ing in Frank­furt. Planes fly­ing close to skyscrap­ers still freak her out.

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