08. Nov
to the overview

Above the roofs … the view must be boundless!

Today we are visiting crane driver Frank. 50 meters above the surface of the earth and thus above most roofs of Berlin. Insights into the life of a crane driver, without whom little would run on the construction site. 

High above, above the roofs of Berlin, Frank is floating. Whoever wants to see him must be free of one thing above all: fear of heights. If you still want to get to him, you have to climb many, many ladder steps to the top. Because Frank is a crane operator and the number 1 crane on the Charlottenbogen construction site is currently his workplace. It is a workplace that is not even one square meter large. So he doesn’t have much freedom up there in his small crane driver’s cabin. It fits in: A seat, two joysticks, a small screen, a control panel and a small heater. “It keeps me warm in winter,” laughs Frank and welcomes me warmly.

Kranfahrer Frank
Crane driver Frank

He is 58 years old, comes from Eberswalde and has been a crane driver for over 20 years. He used to be a construction machine operator, but to spend so many days travelling all over the country, always from construction site to construction site, not getting to see his family, “I didn’t want that anymore”, he says. That is why he retrained, to become a crane driver. Since then, one job after another has come in. He always has work. But he has one condition: he wants to be able to drive home every evening. That is why Berlin is his construction site. There is not a corner of the city he has not seen from a bird’s eye view.

If you now let your gaze wander, you can see the television tower rising in the distance. There the victory column proudly rises. There the Spree meanders. But Frank has no time for these views. “If a ship passes by, I’ll still be looking, otherwise I’ll be down there with my attention”. With these words he turns the crane to the right and drives forward with the trolley. Trolley, this is the name of the movable part of the crane, where the ropes are suspended, which lift the heavy loads from one place on the construction site to another.

Ein traumhafter Blick über den Charlottenbogen
This is where Charlottenbogen is created.

Deep down, a worker is standing on a truck that has loaded ten tons of concrete slabs. Frank maneuvers the chain to the worker, who picks it up and the hooks attached to it, attaches it to the topmost concrete slab, and gives Frank an upward sign by hand. Now he can get started.

Slowly and carefully Frank steers the freight over the construction site. “I always have to make sure that there are no people under the hoist and pay attention to what the other cranes are doing,” he says. The concrete ceiling floats through the air, as effortlessly and elegantly as if it were light as a feather. “You can tell a good crane operator by the fact that there’s nothing rocking and wobbling and everything is lowered completely cleanly,” says Frank.

Because as easy as it all looks, just one mistake and he could fatally injure one of his construction worker colleagues. That is why Frank has to be highly concentrated, even if he makes the same stroke 20 or 30 times in a row. When the wind blows, he must be even more careful. His load must not sway or lurch. An anemometer is mounted on the crane. If the wind becomes too strong, the crane must be shut down. The strength of the wind depends on the height of the crane. However, the absolute upper edge is wind force 8 and thus 72 kilometers per hour. 


“It gets lonely here sometimes,” Frank says now. He works eight or sometimes more hours, alone and without talking to anyone, except for the short instructions over the radio. That is why he prefers to control the crane with a radio remote control from the ground. There he stands in the middle of the action and does not hover over things.

When Frank takes a break, he scrambles back downstairs and goes to the toilet first of all. Another thing a crane driver should not have: a weak bladder. “I can take it well,” says Frank. But when it does not work anymore, then it doesn’t work anymore and he has to go down. Other crane drivers sometimes take an empty bottle up with them.

The concrete slab has reached the workers on the future garage ceiling. They are signaling for Frank to lower the cargo. That is centimeter work. But even from 50 meters away, Frank can see every distance as if he were standing next to it. For what he cannot see, they use a radio. The worker gives the signal, Frank can finally lower the ceiling.

There’s one more secret Frank’s going to tell you. When it is quitting time, the cranes on construction sites seem to turn ghostly. Why? When the cranes and their operators have finished work, the brakes are released, and the cranes are cleared of wind. This means that they can turn with the wind, which means that their air resistance is at its lowest. So they stay safely on the ground until Frank comes back the next morning.  

Alles im Blick: Kranfahrer Frank
Everything in view
Important requirement: Be free from giddiness!
Blick nach oben in den Kran
… right upstairs. 
Kranfahrer Frank an seinem Arbeitsplatz
Steuerung für den Kran
Ein traumhafter Blick
… a fantastic view over Berlin … 

My name is Karl, I am a journalist in Berlin and I'm here to write reports about your new neighborhood.