New Friends and ‘Reconciliation’

Today, Monday 20, was a bit different, but kept up our standard of great days. After blog writing and admin, we walked to an area 15 minutes away called Kurfürstendamm where we met a couple, Helga and Volker Henckel, for lunch. They are the parents of Timo, a friend of Jen and Dave’s in Canberra. Both German, he was born in Poland and she in Cologne. They have travelled a lot and we found we had a lot in common.

They took us to a beautiful restaurant called Cafe Wintergarten in Lituraturhaus. We ate in the conservatory which you can see in the photo – too cold to sit outside to the left of that. It is in quite a fashionable part of Berlin, next door to the biggest Art Auction room in Berlin, if not Germany – very similar to Sotheby’s. Also next door is a gallery of a very well known Berlin artist who died in 1945 – Kathe-Kollwitz. We have seen some of her work and been most impressed by it.

Apart from having a lovely lunch we also had a really good conversation – for over 2 hours over 2 good bottles of German wine. They are an interesting couple. They had lots of good advice to offer us about the remainder of our time in Berlin and were very helpful in thinking through with us a couple of trips we think we will make in the next week.

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

We walked with them to their subway station, and then continued a short distance to a church we wished to visit. It is called the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church and is a remarkable place. Kaiser (Emperor) Wilhelm II had in 1890 promoted an organisation to encourage the construction of Protestant churches throughout Germany, and this enabled this church to be built in a very busy part of Berlin. It had a striking façade, and the tallest tower in Berlin. The church could hold 2000 people.

The church was destroyed in an allied air raid on 23 November 1943. Very little was left standing.

There was a great deal of controversy about whether to tear down the ruins, relocate the church, or reconstruct it on the site. Finally in 1957 a design was approved. This involved integrating the ruin, and creating a group of buildings comprising  the remains of the church building as a memorial hall, a new church, a new chapel, and a new bell tower to include remnants of one of the other towers. The main entrance into the original church now leads into a Hall of Remembrance with a very detailed history of the church and the times. It makes for a very absorbing visit.

The new church is a wonderful place to visit. Those responsible for its reconstruction have linked it strongly to the UK Coventry Cathedral ‘Reconciliation’ and ‘No more War’ initiative.  In Berlin this carries a very strong message.

The Church is octagonal in shape and is completely covered in stained glass, in small squares about a foot square. They are predominantly deep blue, but with red, green and yellow also in some. It apparently looks quite different according to the time of day. The altar is a simple but dramatic structure, surrounded by 12 white candles, over which hangs Christ Arisen by Munich sculptor Karl Hemmeter. A very different looking Christ, but warm and encompassing. It is made from tombac, a brass alloy with a gold colour. And all with the blue glass behind.

I could continue as there are so many beautiful things in this church. The altar cross, the baptismal font, the glazed ceramic tiles on the floor, the Stalingrad Madonna by Kurt Reuber. And the organ which seems to float high up with the blue stained glass behind. We were lucky enough to be there for a service and we were treated to beautiful organ music, including some Bach of which you can gain a glimpse here.

All we can say is, if you come to Berlin, put Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial church at the top of your list of places to visit.

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