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Helmert tower to be renovated

Important monument to the surveying of the earth is to be comprehensively restored. Federal government to fund project with 450,000 euros.

The Federal Government of Germany is funding the restoration of the Helmert Tower with around 450,000 euros. The Helmert Tower was built in 1892/93 together with the so-called Meridian House and the Instrument House as an "observatory for astronomical and geodetic angle measurements" on Potsdam's Telegrafenberg. The monument is named after the geodesist and mathematician Friedrich Robert Helmert, who initiated the construction of the tower as director of the Geodetic Institute. The promised funds come from the federal government's special heritage protection program and are allocated by the Bundestag's budget committee.

The application of the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences to the Bundestag was submitted with a project recommendation by Annalena Baerbock, member of the Bundestag, who has her constituency in Potsdam and maintains a citizens’ office there. "We are very pleased about the funding commitment for this important monument to the history of science," says GFZ Scientific Director Susanne Buiter. She adds, "Annalena Baerbock's support demonstrates the importance of geodesy, whose data are essential for the functioning of our modern world. Together with my fellow board member Stefan Schwartze, I thank Annalena Baerbock for her support."

"I am very pleased that the renovation of this historic building can now begin and that the tower will then hopefully attract many people to Telegrafenberg," says Annalena Baerbock.

Today, the Helmert Tower presents a sad picture. Its once curved corrugated metal facade has disappeared, rust covers the girders and inner shell. Due to the danger of collapse, entry is prohibited. Extensive renovation work is needed to protect the tower from further decay, water penetration and corrosion. Among other things, the steel structure must be renovated and the missing weather protection cover must be installed.

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130 years ago, on the other hand, distant targets (so-called mires) in the Potsdam city area, and later even in Berlin and Brandenburg, were initially aimed from the roof of the tower in order to improve angle measurements. In addition, fixed stars were observed to obtain highly precise location and time data. The Helmert Tower was an important reference point of the then Prussian Geodetic Network and became the central point of the Central European grid after the Second World War. Although the tower was located in the GDR, even NATO maps referred to this point. Until the 1990s, researchers from the Central Institute for Earth Physics of the GDR Academy of Sciences used the dome to take satellite bearings from there using telescopes and laser telescopes. These measurements were discontinued in 1993, and the Helmert Tower was no longer used.

For many years, donations have been collected through the Stiftung Denkmalschutz (Foundation for the Protection of Historical Monuments) in order to be able to renovate the tower. Although this and funds from the Pietschker-Neese Foundation raised more than 100,000 euros, this was only about one tenth of the funds actually needed. The federal funding now provides the decisive impetus for the start of the renovation project.

The funds already available from the Stiftung Denkmalschutz and the Pietschker-Neese-Stiftung will be used for project planning and technical investigations. Added to this is support from the DVW Society for Geodesy, Geoinformation and Land Management, which is funding the renovation of the exterior staircase with 22,000 euros.

The facade renovation is scheduled to begin next year with the federal funds. "If all goes well and we can acquire further funding, we could be finished with the project by the end of 2024," says Stefan Schwartze, Administrative Director of the GFZ.

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