Berliner Dom (Exterior)

Berliner Dom, Berlin, Germany


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Berliner Dom
Location: Berlin, Germany
Date of visit: Thursday, 19 May 2011, 6:00pm

The building

The Dom, reminiscent of St Peter's in Rome, was consecrated in 1905; it is the largest Protestant church in Berlin. It suffered extensive damage in an air raid in May 1944, and an extensive rebuilding program was not begun until 1975. This brief description does not begin to depict the extraordinary beauty of this space. It is lavishly decorated, with some of the architectural high points being the mosaics in the dome representing the Beatitudes; the statues of Zwingli, Luther, Melanchthon and Calvin in the front of the church; and a gilt screen with figures of the twelve apostles. Behind this Apostelwand is a mosaic based on a painting of St Peter by the 17th century painter Guido Reni; it was a gift to Friedrich Wilhelm III from Pope Leo XII as a symbol of "undivided Christendom." In addition to the main worship space, there is a much smaller baptism and marriage chapel. And the church is also the home of the Hohenzollern Crypt, where many of the members of that royal family are buried.

The church

The Berliner Dom holds a place in German life somewhat akin to Westminster Abbey in England or the Washington National Cathedral in the United States (the latter analogy does not hold quite as well). There is an extraordinary concert series; the Dom is the home of two choirs and a thirteen member brass choir. The Dom is a Personalgemeinde, meaning that geographically there are no parish boundaries; any baptized Protestant Christian living in the Berlin area can join the congregation. There are several services each Sunday and during the week, as well as regular meetings for older people, weekly activities for families, and regular community get-togethers.

The neighborhood

The Berliner Dom is on Museum Island, the home of many of Berlin's most notable museums. It is also only a block and a half from another historic church, the Marienkirche.

The cast

The Liturgin (officiant) was Sabrina Ludwig, assisted by Dr Andrea Schaefer, reader. I really could not distinguish any difference between their roles, save that Ludwig led the parts of the service that were in German, and Schaefer the parts that were in English. Ludwig was vested, Schaefer was not. David Clark was the organist.

What was the name of the service?

Musikalisches Abendgebet (Evensong).

How full was the building?

I found it difficult to estimate how many worshippers the Dom can hold, but it's certainly in the thousands. Sadly, there were no more than 35 of us scattered throughout this huge worship space.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

We were in line on the steps of the Dom with a group of tourists wanting to see the building; we had to explain that we actually did want to attend the worship service. As we entered the worship space, a service leaflet was handed us.

Was your pew comfortable?

Padded, and very comfortable indeed.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Quiet and reverential. Bells were rung before the organ prelude.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

The opening sentence, first in German and then in English: "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come." (2 Corinthians 5:17.)

What books did the congregation use during the service?

None, save for the above-mentioned service leaflet. Left hand pages were in German, right hand pages in English.

What musical instruments were played?

The Dom's organ, built by the Frankfurt firm of Wilhelm Sauer Organbuilders and consecrated at the same time as the Dom itself. It is one of the largest Romantic era organs anywhere, with 7269 pipes, 113 ranks, four manuals and pedalboard. It was featured prominently in the service.

Did anything distract you?

Distraction may not be the word, but there is so much visual stimulus in this space. Given that the spoken word is not easily understood in so large a space, I was constantly tempted to took at the mosaics in the dome, or stare back at Zwingli's austere gaze.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

Formal, yet without any ceremonial. The two women leading the service processed in, processed out, and otherwise went about their business of leading the service with minimal movement. Parts of the service were read in German, then English, or in German and English simultaneously (the two congregational hymns and Lord's Prayer). Interspersed into this simple framework of reading, prayer, and blessing were major organ works of Bach and Vierne as well as an improvisation before the first congregational hymn.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

There was none.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The beauty of the space, and Daniel Clark's impressive skills at the organ, both as soloist and accompanist to the congregation.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

Being part of such a small congregation in such a large space, and thus so widely separated from my fellow worshippers. I found myself wondering why the service was not held in the smaller, but still impressive, baptism and marriage chapel (which also has an organ).

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

We all understood we needed to depart so that the tourists could return. Sabrina Ludwig was at the back of the church to greet us.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There was none. I was with a group of relatives and friends, and we retired to a nearby restaurant for dinner and wine.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

3 – I don't want to seem critical, but I simply would not have a clue as to how to be a part of such a large parish. And if we were to move to Berlin, I'm fairly sure I would be happier at the Dom's much smaller neighbor, the Marienkirche.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

Yes. It is good to see the Dom interrupt its role as Berlin tourist attraction to offer the prayers of the church on a daily basis.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

David Clark's quite impressive organ playing, and the extraordinary instrument on which he played.

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