The Gedächtniskirche on Kurfürstendamm is a church, a striking landmark and a memorial against war and destruction.
The traffic roars, people hurry by, street artists perform on Breitscheidplatz, Kurfürstendamm is bursting with life … and then a door opens, a rich, deep blue light shines. Silence all around – and suddenly the hectic world is gone. As soon as you step into the Kaiser-Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche, bustling Berlin is far, far away. The Gedächtniskirche (Memorial Church) is the most famous landmark in the western city centre and is one of Berlin’s most important churches – but at the same time much more than just that. It is composed of the ruins of the church that was destroyed in the war, as well a modern church building. It is a memorial for peace and reconciliation, commemorates Berliners’ determination to rebuild after the war, and is a place of contemplation.
The history of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church
In honour of Wilhelm I, the first German Kaiser, his grandson Wilhelm II planned a magnificent church, which was built by Franz Schwechten between 1891 and 1895 in the Neo-Romantic style. With five spires, the bombastic design reflected the tastes of the time and that of the Kaiser.
The church bells were the second biggest in Germany after Cologne, and when the church was inaugurated, the five bells rang so loudly that the wolves in the zoo started howling. During the Second World War, the chimes stopped and the five bells were melted down for munitions.
Air raids in 1943 damaged the church so badly that the top of the main spire broke off and the roof collapsed. At the end of the war, the Allies were unwilling to rebuild it, since it had been a symbol of excessive national pride. The ruin stood as a constant reminder to Berliners of the horrors of war. In 1956, plans to completely demolish the church and build a new one led to angry public protests. As a compromise, the architect Egon Eiermann integrated the ruin in his design for the new church. The present church was completed between 1959 and 1961. The design consists of concrete honeycomb elements with stained glass inlays. Inside the octagonal nave, the stained glass produces a rich blue light and an atmosphere of meditative calm. The memorial hall in the old spire is now a memorial against war and destruction and a symbol of reconciliation. It also contains a crucifix made of nails from the burnt roof timbers of Coventry Cathedral, which was almost completely destroyed by bombs in 1940. The crosses of nails from Coventry, which are also in Dresden, Hiroshima and Volgograd, are a symbol of reconciliation.
Renovation of the church
The church has been undergoing extensive renovation for several years. From 2009 to 2015 the old spire was hidden under thick tarpaulins. The new spire and chapel are next in line.
Church services and concerts
10 a.m. Sundays: Protestant service with celebration of the Eucharist.
6 p.m. Sundays: evening service with various themes
Every 2nd Sunday of the month: “Psalmton” - jazz pop service
Every 4th Sunday of the month: “500 years of the Reformation”
Every last Sunday in the month: Eucharist celebration
1 p.m., 5.30 p.m. and 6 p.m. Mondays to Fridays: prayers for peace and short weekday services
Every day at 1 p.m.: midday prayers for peace
Every Friday at 1 p.m.: “Reconciliation prayer” from Coventry at the cross of nails in the memorial hall
6 p.m. Saturdays: organ and choral vespers or cantata services, continuing performance of cantata works of Johann Sebastian Bach as part of the church service
In summer, well-known jazz musicians play in the IN SPIRIT series - the summer night jazz experience.
Christmas market at the Memorial Church
One of Berlin’s biggest Christmas markets takes place every year on Breitscheidplatz.