Rooftop Renegade A Bird's-Eye View of Berlin

Photographer Mark R. climbs cranes, crawls along skyscrapers and stands atop mobile masts. It's all about getting the best shot of the city – but it's a risky business and not always legal.
Getting an overview.

It looks dangerous, almost suicidal. Without a harness or rope, Mark R. climbs out the window of the penthouse, onto the small ledge under the roof.

One misstep and the man clad in jeans and a jacket would fall from the 34th floor of the Berlin skyscraper.

But for Mark R., dangerous climbs like these are all part of his daily routine.

“Rooftopping, raccoon style,” is how he describes his passion.

Roofing is a new trend, particularly in eastern Europe, where climbers scale high buildings for daring snaps that then course through social media earning likes.

Last June, a well-known Ukrainian climber caused a stir in Berlin when he climbed the 36-meter high (118-feet) Molecule Man sculpture in the Spree river.

Mark R. is passionate about urban climbing and tweets many of his photos.

He has managed to turn this passion into a job.

Trained as an industrial climber, he started off by taking pictures of the capital’s landmarks while standing on high rooftops.

The highlight of his illegal climbing career was his ascent of the federal chancellery – thanks to some unsupervised scaffolding.

The photos caught the interest of real estate companies who kept asking him for more – and providing him with the keys to some of their buildings.

That’s how Mark R. landed his job as resident photographer of Berlin’s Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, he said.

It was the view from the clock tower that sparked his passion for the western part of Berlin.

One thing Mark R. doesn’t need to worry about is competition. There are very few building photographers who are willing to climb fire escapes every day to get a good shot.

He has different problems, namely concerned pedestrians and worried residents.

When Mark R. climbed a building in Hohenschönhausen, a district in East Berlin with towering blocks of apartments, an elderly woman called the police, telling officers a man was trying to cut the roof open with a welding torch. “Berlin's special forces sped over,” Mark R. said. Nowadays, he lets the police know – when he's climbing a building for a client.

But not all the climbs have been legal. The process for getting a permit to climb a building is arduous. “It takes me six months to get up there, but I’m back down within 10 minutes,” he said. Sometimes, he just shins up – risking charges of breaking and entering, or having to hurry along the edges of rooftops to evade security personnel.

The highlight of his illegal climbing career was his ascent of the federal chancellery – thanks to some unsupervised scaffolding. “I wanted to get up on the roof to take a picture,” Mark R. said.

But he wound up being shot with tear gas, and came away with numerous bruises – and a charge for breaching the peace.

In the end, the case was dropped after Mark R. paid a fine and agreed to destroy all the material he had obtained.

Other high points have included Berlin's 150-meter broadcasting tower, the city’s famous red brick town hall, and other landmarks across the capital.

Now, he has his eye on the western part of the city, including the trade fair and the Ku'damm shopping mile.

Unlike the hipsters and tourists who crowd into Berlin, he is less a fan of the eastern part of town.

“All the shots from the roofs have the TV tower in the background. That’s boring.”


Video: Two Russian rooftoppers climb Shanghai Tower under construction.

This article first appeared in Der Tagesspiegel. To contact the author: [email protected]