During the redesign of Alexanderplatz to mark the 20th anniversary of the GDR, the designer Prof. Erich John developed the Urania World Clock at the end of 1968. Under his direction, it was built within only a few months together with 124 volunteers in so-called „Feierabendbrigaden“ (effectively „after-work brigades“) and it was inaugurated on September 30th, 1969 at Alexanderplatz in Berlin by the Lord Mayor of East Berlin, Herbert Fechner.
The date line as well as 146 names of cities and regions from all continents and time zones are shown on the rotunda along with the date line. The rotating dial in the middle of the clock shows their current local time or world time in all time zones simultaneously. The planetary system rotates above everything, symbolising the basics of our time measurement over the course of the planets.
With its original 80 city names from all 24 time zones, the World Clock showed the citizens of the GDR on a daily basis how vast the world is beyond the GDR‘s borders. Even then, its designer Prof. Erich John recognized the symbolic power of freedom in stark contrast to the Berlin Wall erected in 1961: „Many felt the confinement of the city since the building of the Wall, the impression of cosmopolitanism via a World Clock was obviously a touching thought.“
Still today the World Clock at Alex is an equally popular meeting point for Berliners and guests from all around the world alike regardless of age. Not only did students from all over the world gather in the area surrounding the clock for the World Youth games in the summer of 1973, but also on October 7th 1989, when thousands of opposition members set off towards the „Palast der Republik“ with the famous words „we are the people“, where the state leadership was celebrating the 40th anniversary of the GDR. Just 33 days later, the borders were opened, and the Berlin Wall fell.
Since 2015 the Berlin World Clock has been a protected landmark on account of its artistic, architectural and historical meaning.
Seit November 2018 ist die Weltzeituhr erstmals in ihrer Geschichte als zeitgeschichtliches Wahrzeichen und einzigartige Designikone – rechtzeitig zum 50. Jubiläum – als Sammlerstück und Souvenir erhältlich.
Professor Erich John
On February 6th 1932, Erich John was born in the north bohemian village of Karlitz, where his parents ran a farm until the family was ousted and expelled in 1945. After an apprenticeship as a fitter in Neukloster, Brandenburg, the talented illustrator began studying wrought iron and metal design in Wismar and Heiligendamm at the age of 18. He completed his subsequent studies in design – comparable to today‘s industrial and product design – in 1958 at the renowned Kunsthochschule in Berlin-Weißensee, where he trained generations of designers as a lecturer from 1965 and as a professor from 1973 to 1992. In 1982 he was appointed visiting professor for „Industrial Design“ at Ohio State University (USA) for one semester and was awarded the GDR Design Prize.
Erich John’s works are today still regarded as unmatched in terms of functionality and design. During his multiple award-winning career John developed countless products, which in the decades since have become everyday objects not only in the GDR but also so-called „foreign western countries“ such as FRG and Scandinavia. He penned amongst others, the „Erika“ typewriter, the „Undine II“ radio, vacuum cleaners and razors, but also microscopes for biology lessons and the „Galilean Set of Instruments“ – a modular pair of binoculars.
To John design means the „optimisation of living space”. His most famous work has remained a unique landmark of central Berlin since 1969: the Urania World Clock at Alexanderplatz. He has thus succeeded in shaping the future of the cityscape in a sustainable way.