American Forces Network (AFN), the American military radio broadcaster, had its origins in the Second World War when it supplied moral support to overseas troops in the form of entertainment programs. At war’s end, AFN stations set up shop in large German cities within the US zone of occupation. Starting in August of 1945, AFN broadcast music and information to soldiers in Berlin from a mansion on Podbielskiallee in Dahlem that had been built for the merchant Erich Penzlin in the late 1920s. Radio was a key medium in that era and it represented a central component of the soldiers’ recreational activities. During the Airlift, the AFN broadcast towers provided pilots with welcome support as they took their bearings.
In the 1950s, AFN’s blend of swing and jazz, along with rock ’n’ roll, blues and pop in later decades, was also extremely popular among German listeners. Nearly two thirds of the 12,853 letters the station received from listeners in 1954 came from them. Both individual radio broadcasts, which the station always transmitted in English, and specific DJs enjoyed cult status among German youth. American artists like Benny Goodman, Ella Fitzgerald, and Louis Armstrong were happy to provide AFN with the occasional interview before their concerts. The station frequently broadcast them live.
With the construction of the Berlin Wall, it became considerably more difficult for listeners from East Berlin and the GDR to tune into this station, which was regarded as the voice of the class enemy and of a potential adversary in battle.
In 1969, when AFN introduced its own TV broadcasts, the station moved to more spacious quarters in nearby Saargemünder Strasse – in the direct vicinity of US Headquarters. The vacated building later served the US Army as a residence for officers‘ families. Up until its last broadcast on July 15, 1994, AFN served as a powerful link between Americans and Berliners. It was one of America’s most beloved ambassadors.
This formerly 27-room villa was constructed for the merchant Erich Penzlin in the late 1920s. The variously high rectangular structures form an L-shaped building that frames the rear garden and shields it from the street. The side wing along Hellriegelstrasse also originally possessed a flat hipped roof. By contrast, the façade, which is made of natural travertine, has withstood the test of time. Architect Otto Rudolf Salvisberg was also responsible for the residential buildings in the Onkel-Toms-Hütte residential development in Dahlem.