Iconic Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

 

There are many memorials in Berlin that hark back to the city’s long and colorful history. But none touched me more than the protestant Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church (Kaiser Wilhelm Gedaechtniskirche) in the heart of the former West Berlin. Its damaged church tower is a reminder of the destructiveness of war.

aiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, Berlin, Germany, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2014. www.walled-in-berlin. com

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, Berlin, Germany, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2014. www.walled-in-berlin. com

History of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

The Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church was originally built between 1891 and 1895. The last German Emperor and King of Prussia, Kaiser Wilhelm II, named it in honor of his grandfather Kaiser Wilhelm I. The foundation stone was laid on 22 March 1891, Wilhelm I’s birthday. With its 371-foot spire, the church was the tallest building in Berlin at the time. Inside it was decorated with stained glass windows and a large mosaic portraying the history of Prussia up to Emperor Wilhelm.

In 1943, the Neo-Romanesque church was largely destroyed during a bombing attack and the resulting fire. The subsequent air raids of 1945 leveled it almost completely. By the end of World War II, only the heavily damaged west tower of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church was left standing. Berliners dubbed it Hohler Zahn (hollow tooth).

Close-up view of the "Hohler Zahn", photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Close-up view of the “Hohler Zahn”, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015. www.walled-in-berlin.com

However, when the West Berlin government wanted to demolish the hollow spire in the 1950s, the public protested. In the end, the tower was left standing in its crippled state while a new church was constructed around it. The first floor of the damaged tower of the old church is now home to a memorial hall.

Reconstruction of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

The entire church stood heavily damaged until a new, octagonal church was built alongside the damaged tower between 1957 and 1963. A freestanding hexagonal bell tower was constructed next to the church, on the site of the former main nave of the destroyed church. Egon Eiermann designed the new construction.

The modern church bears little resemblance to its predecessor. Inside the octagonal nave of the new church, an enormous statue of Jesus, suspended above the altar, catches the eye. But the most striking feature of the new church is the intense blue light that pervades throughout the building, created by 21,000 colored blocks of glass. They were blown by hand in a French workshop. The predominant color is blue with small flecks of ruby red, emerald green and yellow.

21,000 blue glass blocks create an introspective atmosphere inside the reconstructed Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, photo © J. Elke Ertle. www.walled-in-berlin.com

21,000 blue glass blocks create an introspective atmosphere inside the reconstructed Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, photo © J. Elke Ertle. www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

Candles in memory of the victims of the 19 December 2016 terrorist attack in the Christmas Market next to the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Candles in memory of the victims of the 19 December 2016 terrorist attack in the Christmas Market next to the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

 

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