One of the most unexpected features on the busy landscape of central Berlin is the bombed out spire of an 1890’s era church – The Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. Rising tall into the sky near Zoo Station, the wreckage is incongruous with the modern city around it, a visible reminder of the destruction in Berlin’s recent past. It serves now as a monument to peace and reconciliation, and a testament to the will of Berlin – and of Germany – to rebuild after World War II without forgetting the Holocaust and the violence of war.
Built between 1891 – 1895 to honor the first German Emperor, the church was designed in a Neo-Romanesque style and featured a tall, narrow 113-metre spire that could be seen from miles around. The original structure featured 2740 square metres of stunning mosaic dedicated to the Emperor, details sadly lost on November 23, 1943. Air raids pummeled the church, destroying the main building and damaging its spire, leaving its height only 73 metres.
Make no mistake – this damaged, unrepaired spire’s current presence on the skyline is no accident - the result of citizen outcry in the 1950s when architect Egon Eiermann, hired to rebuild the church, voiced plans to tear down the bombed spire and replace it with a modern building. Visible reminders of the horrors of the Nazi past were rapidly disappearing from Berlin, and the public was uneasy with the complete erasure of these crimes. Maintaining a massive symbol of World War II was seen as a meaningful gesture that would keep the memory fresh while allowing the city to move forward. It is now an iconic feature of the capital.
Eiermann respected the wishes of Berliners, and while he maintained the spire of the church he also built a four new buildings surrounding the ruins. The new buildings are made of steel, concrete and 21,292 panels of colored stained glass - fine examples of 1960’s brutalist architecture. Berliners call the combination of the new and old buildings the “Lipstick and Powder Puff” for their distinctive shapes on the skyline.
The damaged spire was reopened to the public in 1987, and now attracts nearly 100,000 visitors per year. In 2007 Charles Gray, a retired British pilot who had dropped bombs on Berlin during World War II, was dismayed by the rapidly decaying condition of the spire. At his behest, a fundraising campaign was started and the money collected has been used to repair and reinforce the structure.
While closed for extensive renovation throughout 2013, the church is again open to the public. Visitors to the church and the Memorial Hall will see the building’s original crucifix, as well a Cross of Nails composed of wreckage Coventry Cathedral in the British Midlands, bombed by German planes in 1940.
Visiting the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church
FREE tours of The Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church and Memorial Hall are given daily at 14:15, 15:00 and 16:00, with additional tours at 10:15, 11:00 and noon on Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays!!
The Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church
Breitscheidplatz, 10789 Berlin
Kurfürstendamm, U+S - Zoologischer Garten
Bus M19, M29, M46, X9, X10, X34, 100, 109, 110, 145, 200, 204, 245
Open: daily from 9.00 am to 7.00 pm
Services: Sunday 10.00 am and 6.00 pm