Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

Random access tourism: you get on the first bus that comes along and get off when you see something interesting … In this case a bright red doubledecker No. 200, westbound. Near the Zoologischer Garten Berlin, in an area of upscale shops and restaurants, the sidewalks teeming with tourists,  we spotted a ruined church tower that looked somehow familiar:

1490 steeple

We went into a memorial hall under the shattered steeple, the only remnants of Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church left after Allied bombing in 1943 and 1945. Soon a minister came in robed in black with a white bib and at 1 pm gave a little talk and recited a prayer in German. The only word I understood was “father.” Paula went to ask the meaning of it, and he said the prayer was from Coventry Cathedral. He mentioned the Community of the Cross of Nails of which Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial is a member church. The Coventry Cathedral website has quite a bit on the world-wide evangelical program of reconciliation that started at Coventry after its bombing in 1940. The cathedral provost urged a commitment “not to revenge, but to forgiveness and reconciliation with those responsible.” A crucifix was created from nails of medieval provenance found in the ruins. A cross of nails in this church came from Coventry. The Coventry website also has the words of the Litany of Reconciliation, recited every weekday at noon and one presumes at the same time in Berlin:

All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
The hatred which divides nation from nation, race from race, class from class,
Father Forgive.
The covetous desires of people and nations to possess what is not their own,
Father Forgive.
The greed which exploits the work of human hands and lays waste the earth,
Father Forgive.
Our envy of the welfare and happiness of others,
Father Forgive.
Our indifference to the plight of the imprisoned, the homeless, the refugee,
Father Forgive.
The lust which dishonours the bodies of men, women and children,
Father Forgive.
The pride which leads us to trust in ourselves and not in God,
Father Forgive.
Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Went into the new church and sat for a bit. Starkly octagonal, utterly unadorned, its walls are made of thousands of squares of blue stained glass. And the most remarkable crucifix I’ve ever seen:

1478 uncrucifix

Not Jesus crucified — Jesus risen, seeming to float, seemingly still in his burial garments, seeming very old.

Near our seats this drawing drew my attention:

1491 madonna

There’s a plaque beside:

1492 Stalingrad madonna

Can’t read it; can’t find a translation … help! But the story has been told many times — here by Heinz Schroeter.

The drawing was made by Kurt Reuber, a German doctor and minister in his trench at Stalingrad, on the back of a map, in 1942. The drawing furnished the only decoration at the  Christmas service there. A Wikipedia article describes it thus:

The piece is a simple charcoal sketch, measuring three feet by four feet (900 mm × 1200 mm). Mary is depicted wrapped in a large shawl, holding the infant Jesus close to her cheek. On the right border are the words Licht, Leben, Liebe (“Light, Life, Love”), from the Gospel of John. On the left, Reuber wrote Weihnachten im Kessel 1942 (“Christmas at the Siege 1942”) and at the bottom Festung Stalingrad (“Fortress Stalingrad”) …Kessel (“Cauldron”) is the German term for an encircled military area, and Fortress Stalingrad was the label for the encircled army promoted in the Nazi press. 

Reuber died in a prison camp; the Stalingrad Madonna was apparently spirited away on the last German airplane to leave before the 6th Army surrendered. It came circuitously to this church. Copies are in Coventry and Stalingrad/Volgagrad.

We liked the church of the low blue light. We came back (via the No. 7 S-Bahn) not once but twice for musical events. The first was a variety concert by students of an art college. A couple dozen performers, some very stylish and charming, mostly shy and rigid — much as at those mass performances every so often at the Conservatory of Music. A quartet of Asian women played the ravishing Saint-Saens Caprice op. 79 like pros. There was a lot of classical music, all introduced at length; there was jazz, there were loungey vocal stylings. Sparsely attended, admission by donation, yet there was a sense of community. Another day at 4 pm we attended an organ recital, with a Toccata and Fugue by J.S. Bach that was new to me and a piece of starkly meditative modernism by Arvo Pärt. In between, a minister read and said something.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *