The Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church is one of the most famous landmarks of what is known as West Berlin, and some people even call it der hohle Zahn, which means the hollow tooth in German, due to its damaged shape. The damage is what makes this building so, and it was caused by air raids during the Second World War.
The present building is something different from that, and it consists of the original damaged church and an attached chapel that was built between 1959 and 1963. In the original ruined church, you can see inside the spire and the ground floor, still with some of the decorations that made it famous before the Second World War.
When I moved to Berlin, back in early 2012, I went to visit the church but, at the time, it was closed for repair. It took me a couple of years to be able to see it and appreciate its beauty. I still remember when I was cycling around the area and looked across the street and there it was. I stopped my bike and just stared at it for a while.
Below I will tell a little bit more of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church and its history. I will start with the Old Church and then talk about the New Church and its reconstruction.
The Old Kaiser Wilhelm Church
Like I mentioned before, the Kaiser Wilhelm Church was built in the 1890s by a Kaiser Wilhelm II and his consort Augusta Victoria as an initiative to counter the German socialist movement by a return to traditional religious values. There was a design competition for the project, and Franz Schwechten won, he was the responsible for the Anhalter Bahnhof building.
The church design wasn’t really familiar in the area surrounding Berlin, and it was so popular that inspired other architectural projects in the area.
The foundation stone was laid on March 22nd, 1891, which was, also, Kaiser Wilhelm’s birthday. But the church was only consecrated in 1906.
The Kaiser Wilhelm Church During the Second World War
The history of the church changed entirely during the night of November 23rd, 1943 when airplanes flew over Berlin in one of the many air raids that damaged the city. The spire of the church was used as a guide for the bombing and the area around it was heavily destroyed during the bombings, but the entrance hall and some of the spire remained good enough for repair.
After the war, the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche decided to rebuild the church but discussions about how to do it took a few years to be arranged. In 1956, a design competition was organized and the winner of it, architect Egon Eiermann, proposed to remove the remains of the ruined spire. But the public didn’t like it, and they protested to keep it preserved since it was characterized as the heart of Berlin.
The New Kaiser Wilhelm Church
The new church, design by Egon Eiermann, consists of four buildings organized around the remaining ruins of the old church. Due to public pressure, the old church spire was incorporated into the design, and they contrast beautifully with the concrete, glass and steel aesthetics of the new one.
Inside the church, there is a crucifix suspended above the altar, against a blueish glass wall. The piece was designed by Karl Hemmeter, but this isn’t what caught my eye inside the church. Once I set foot inside, my attention was on the gorgeous organ opposite to the altar. With something like 5.000 pipes, the organ is used for demonstrations, music pieces and more and you can check the website of the church to see it being used.
When you enter the older part of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, the first thing you will see is a mosaic of Archangel Michael fighting a dragon on the floor. There are more mosaics around showing the monarchs of medieval Germany, some Hohenzollern princesses, Reformation thinkers and biblical stories.
Following the history of the Second World War, one of the most exciting elements inside the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church is the Cross of Nails which made from nails in the roof of the Coventry Cathedral in Great Britain.
I visited the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church back in January 2017, I was staying at the 25 Hours Hotel in West Berlin, and I realized that I was never inside the church. This was my opportunity, and it was great to go there finally.
Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church
Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in the Heart of West Berlin
Breitscheidplatz, 10789 Berlin