It’s Sunday – Religion in Berlin

Slightly late start as we fiddled around for a while, but we were on the train by 11am.

House of One

On a very cold morning, 2 degrees when we set out, we went looking for the House of One. We had been told about it by a friend in Melbourne who visited here last year. After a fair bit of searching we found ourselves looking at a plot of land close to the middle of the city. This plot of land has been earmarked for a fantastic project – they have a beautiful building planned which will be a place where Jews, Christians and Muslims will be able to worship under the one roof. In fact until WW2 a church operated on the spot but it was heavily damaged during the war.

The project has been spear-headed by a clergyman in Berlin, Gregor Hohberg. He is minister of Marionkirche close by. He didn’t see any point in putting up another church when attendances are falling, but instead focus on a project that makes sense for the present. He has now two partners, an imam, and a rabbi, and building is expected to start later this year. So far they have only raised 1of the 43.5 million euros needed.

We will have to ask our friend what she saw when she visited – maybe we missed something. I will write and get more details from her. In the meantime, we found it a fascinating concept. An article here in The National of March 12, 2017 makes for interesting reading.

You could say we didn’t find anything but we both felt we learned a lot.

Nikolaikirche – St Nicholas Church

Not far from the House of One – just 2 bus stops – we found the Nikolaikirche. We had seen it in the distance most days as it has two very tall spires which can be seen from many spots in the city. It is the oldest building in Berlin, its earliest version having been built between 1220 and 1230 in the small Berlin town to the north of and over the River Spree from the earlier settlement, Colln (on what is now Museum Island).

The twin towns of Colin (on now Museum Island) and Berlin, north over the River Spree (in the Middle Ages)

Originally Roman Catholic, it became Lutheran in 1539 at the Reformation. Over the years it suffered as a result of fires and often needed major repairs. (We couldn’t help thinking of the building problems we have had at Mark the Evangelist!) The last service was held in November 1939 and renovation work was begun. However the war stopped that project and then it was bombed in 1944. The towers were destroyed together with much of the church. The Protestant Church transferred the site to the local government in the sixties. As it was in East Berlin, it was not until 1981 that the German Democratic Republic (being in the East) authorised the rebuilding of the church as part of the preparations for the 750th anniversary of Berlin in 1987.

Today it is largely a reconstruction. It is well known as a concert hall and ecclesiastical museum. It is known for its acoustics and has a set of 41 bells. It also has what looks like a magnificent organ. We must try and get to a concert. We were interested to listen to an account of the life of one minister of the church in the 17th century called Paul Gerhardt who was a prominent hymn writer. We discovered that among others he wrote the words for the hymn – O Sacred Head Sore Wounded – which we often sing at church.

We spent a long time there. They have an excellent audio guide which describes the many sculptures, paintings, and parts of the old church which have been found. As with so many places we visited, it was another opportunity to deepen our understanding of German history and the way in which German people have responded to the events of the time.

We gave ourselves an early mark today as we are going to a concert tonight.

The Berlin Philharmonic

Well, what an experience. Off to the Philharmonie – with half of Berlin, judging by all those accompanying us on train and bus. It was amazingly convenient – we were dropped at the door. The Philharmonie consists of 2 concert halls – the large concert hall and a smaller (although still pretty big) chamber music hall. The first hall was built in 1882 and used until it was bombed on 30 January 1944. The new concert venue was opened in 1987. The larger hall holds 2440 seats, the smaller 1,180. The building is tent like, with the main hall shaped as a pentagon. The seats are not arranged as usual in tiers – stalls, balcony etc – but in what is called a vineyard style with terraces of seats rising around the central orchestra platform. This platform is surrounded by seats on all sides. The acoustics are well known. Apparently this building was a model for the Sydney Opera house.

We had superb seats which we had booked on line. The program was wonderful and conducted by Zubin Mehta. Elgar’s violin concerto, with violinist Pinchas Zukerman was not a work either of us knew and not like the Elgar with which we are familiar. Very pleasant to hear, and one we will listen to again. The second work was Tchaikovsky’s very familiar symphony number 5. It was fantastic, causing every person in the hall to stand for an ovation. It is very spirited, and the orchestra kept it on a high point throughout. Most notable were the winds, woodwinds and brass, with a clarinetist and an oboe player quite superb.

The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra receiving a standing ovation.

As it happened we were there on a special night – a benefit concert (we think to raise money to care for the many refugees in Germany), attended by the President of Germany, and the Mayor of Berlin, who both gave speeches. Alan spoke to a woman who explained that this was the last week in office for the President. In his speech he praised the way in which the German people had got behind the large number of refugees, and in particular the work of UNICEF. The President had declared this a  ‘benefit concert’ as a tribute to the work of UNICEF.  Volunteers from UNICEF were in the audience, wearing blue t-shirts. We spoke to a couple after who told us that the program in Germany is very unusual – UNICEF almost always works in developing countries, but it has been given permission to work in Germany because of the large number of refugees.

The President ended his speech by inviting everyone present – the whole 2000 – for drinks after. We went along, and chatted to a couple of people. It was a grand occasion.


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