Peace Landmark Crumbling: Berlin's Famous Church Ruin Needs Renovation

Berlin's Memorial Church withstood the devastating bombardment of Berlin during World War II, not to mention more than 100 winters. But its pastor says it is now sorely in need of expensive renovation. The city, mindful of the symbolic power of the building, is starting to cough up.

The Memorial Church has stood as a monument to the destruction of war.
DPA

The Memorial Church has stood as a monument to the destruction of war.

The city of Berlin has allocated €1.5 million ($2.2 million) to renovate one of its most famous landmarks, the preserved ruin of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, which has stood as a symbol of peace ever since it was heavily damaged by bombs in World War II.

The announcement of fresh funding comes a week after the church's pastor Martin Gerner announced that it was in serious need of repairs. But he said the money isn't even half as much as it will take to restore the church in the West Berlin district of Charlottenburg to its previous condition.

"The old steeple has been standing for a long time, but it urgently needs to be reinforced," Gerner told the DPA news agency. "At the moment, it's structurally sound. But who knows how hard the upcoming winter will be, and what impact that might have on the building."

Architectural consultants concluded that the old church's brick foundation and stone façade are particularly fatigued. The normal wear and tear on a 100-year-old church is compounded by the pummelling the building took during Allied air raids in 1945, which caused the damage that eventually led to the building's preservation as a World War II memorial.

Gerner estimates that a complete renovation would cost over €3 million ($4.4 million). Most of that money would need to come from a matching contribution from the federal government's Program for Monument Conservation, and he's also organizing smaller fundraisers, beginning with a benefit concert on Nov. 9.

Support among Berliners to preserve the church is strong. The Berliner Morgenpost newspaper called it one of the most important landmarks in Berlin; that’s not small praise in a city which is full of memorials, and gaining more every year.

"The church's memorial hall is a place of reconciliation," the paper proclaimed. "It is a symbol of hope -- the only building in Breitscheidplatz to stay standing throughout the bombing of Berlin."

The Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church opened in 1895. After World War II the people of West Berlin decided to incorporate the damaged tower into the design for a new church, which was completed in 1961.

pmm/dpa

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