The Church of Reconciliation
The Church of Reconciliation was consecrated in 1894, with Empress Auguste Victoria, the wife of Kaiser Wilhelm II, present at the service. It was a large, brick-built neo-Gothic church, similar to many others in Berlin, built to accommodate the large influx of workers to the industrial Wedding district at the end of the nineteenth century. The parish first became associated with reconciliation at this time, as it began to reconcile the social tensions in the new community and it was this philosophy that gave it its name.
The church became particularly known as a centre for music and charity work in the area, but it was not a particularly remarkable church: the path and destiny of the Church of Reconciliation and its congregation were not different than those of other churches and congregations in the years leading up to Second World War.
During the war, the church suffered damage in a bombing raid from 1943 (a bomb that failed to explode that evening can still be seen where it fell in the new chapel), but restoration work ensured it was fully reopened in 19
The Construction of the Berlin Wall
The division of Berlin in 1945 left the Church of Reconciliation in the Soviet Sector, but the pavement in front of the church and most of its parishioners were in the French sector. This meant that when the Berlin Wall was built in 1961, the outer wall passed directly in front of the church and the inner wall passed directly behind it leaving the church blocked off to all but the border guards. Neighbouring apartments with doors and windows that opened to the west were bricked up and incorporated into the Wall, with the apartments firstly being evacuated and later destroyed. The church then stood isolated in no-man’s land, or the ‘death zone,’ inaccessible to citizens of both the east and the west.
The parish were forced to move into what was purpose built as a ‘temporary’ site, which now houses the Documentation Centre and Berlin Wall exhibition. Te parish continued to worship in the shadow of its church, keeping hope for a return to its church alive. This Community House was designed by Harald Franke and Horst Haselhoff and completed in 1965, holding the church’s ceremonies for the next 35 years and it continues to play an important role for the church community.
The Church of Reconciliation was an increasing annoyance to the GDR (German Democratic Republic or ‘East’ Germany) government. The border guards had to take a detour around it on patrols and it was increasingly being used as a symbol of what the Berlin Wall was blocking. Moreover the Protestant church in the GDR was increasingly becoming a refuge for opponents of the regime, allowing free speech. Destroying the Church of Reconciliation was seen as a way of removing an annoying symbol and would also be a warning to other churches in the GDR that they were not invincible if they allowed free speech against the regime. With the official reason for the destruction being ‘to increase the security, order and cleanliness on the state border with West Berlin,’ the nave was destroyed on 22nd January 1985 followed by the church steeple six days later. At the time, images of the crumbling steeple were broadcast around the world, causing both bewilderment and disgust. Instead of removing the building as a symbol, it assured that it would pass into legend.
The act which was supposed to erase this image from consciousness produced another image in the consciousness of the international public. The demolition of the church revealed the character of that system even more clearly than the strangulation of the church building through wall and barbed wire had. Instead of being over quickly, the footage was repeated and created a new symbol for the west. It became a more potent symbol than it had been before. In a report on the state of the nation in a divided Germany on February 28, 1985, Federal Chancellor Helmut Kohl said, ‘This event is a symbol. The demolition of the church shows us how long, how difficult and how uncertain the path before us is in order to over come the division of Europe and the division of Germany.’
The parish responded to the destruction of its church with its own symbolic act. Its pastor, Manfred Fischer, said ‘we can do something and if we trust in symbolic actions, we are aware of the silent power of symbols to change the impossible into possibilities.’ As part of this act there was a symbolic dance, ‘Leap Over the Wall’, by Paula Loeffler and Pastor Fischer gave a service to the East by megaphone.
Less than five years later, in 1989, the Wall fell. The barbed wire was rolled in and Wall's remains were dismantled and carried away. The removal of the Wall began in Bernauer Strasse on the 13th June 1990 and left the Reconciliation Parish with the question of what should be done with the land where their church had once stood.
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