Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche, Berlin

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, Berlin, Germany


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church
Location: Berlin, Germany
Date of visit: Sunday, 22 September 2013, 10:00am

The building

The cornerstone for the original Gothic structure of Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche was laid in 1891, and the church had a spire 370 feet tall. Almost the entire building was destroyed during the bombing of Berlin in World War II, but the portion that remained is being preserved. Today the church consists of four buildings: the original ruins, the new sanctuary (a hexagon on the outside but an octagon inside), a tower with a chapel, and a foyer. The new church is a fascinating modern structure that includes walls partially consisting of over 2,000 stained glass inlays. When we visited, only the top of the steeple was visible; the rest was covered by some sort of structure probably meant to protect the tower.

The church

There are two services on Sunday (morning and evening) and three "short services" each weekday. The church offers a variety of music programs.

The neighborhood

Located near the beautiful Berlin Zoo, the church is at the edge of Charlottenburg, a very upscale neighborhood with many expensive shops and eateries. Across the street from the church is a large transportation complex that is a little seedy, albeit safe.

The cast

An unnamed male led the service, and an unidentified woman read the gospel and gave a slide show about the church.

What was the name of the service?

No name was given. It appeared to be a standard worship service.

How full was the building?

The sanctuary holds about 1,000, but when we attended it was only about one-quarter full. We suspected that many in attendance were tourists.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Yes. A woman said "Morgen!" (Good morning) and handed us prayer books.

Was your pew comfortable?

Individual chairs – very comfy!

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

We came just as the service was starting.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

Missed those.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

An evangelical hard-cover combination prayer book, hymnal and psalter. It was well-worn.

What musical instruments were played?

A magnificent organ, an opus of the Karl Schuke firm of Berlin. There was also a choir up in the loft who were superb.

Did anything distract you?

The Frau from Brooklyn, who can sight-read German, found the hymnal very difficult to sing from. They printed the music for part of each hymn only. Also, throughout most of the service you could not see the preacher or his assistant.

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

Very serious and quiet. The altar was illuminated by many candles, and the preacher spoke very softly. The hymns sounded rather somber, and only a handful of people in the congregation joined in. Interestingly, the choir didn't sing the hymns either, but did render some beautiful unaccompanied pieces.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

25 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

4 – I can only rate the preacher as to his speaking style, since my German is not sufficiently good to assess his content. He spoke almost in a monotone. Before the sermon proper there was a 20-minute slide show about the church given in German by the woman who read the gospel. She also spoke in a virtual monotone. The old structure is being rehabilitated, and I believe she was talking about that.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Can't comment on that. The Frau from Brooklyn didn't understand it either – in fact, we both fell asleep during it!

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The beautiful blue stained glass inlays were awe-inspiring. The organist was also wonderful, and the choir were heavenly.

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

The almost total lack of participation by the congregation, and the flat delivery of the sermon.

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

Nobody came up to us.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

No coffee was served, but they did have some fresh fruit. The two of us were suffering from acute jet-lag, so we didn't stay, but rather headed to a wonderful cafe nearby for a sugar high.

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

1 – Even if I were a native Berliner and spoke perfect German, I would want a more involved congregation and a better preacher. I would, however, come to the church for music events.

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


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

The choir.

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