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Understanding the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in the Heart of West Berlin

The Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church is one of the most famous landmarks of West Berlin. 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 original Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church is known in German as Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche. It was built in the 1890s by Kaiser Wilhelm II and his consort Augusta Victoria as an initiative to counter the German socialist movement by a return to traditional religious values.

The present building is different from that. It consists of the original damaged church and an attached chapel built between 1959 and 1963. In the original ruined church, you can see inside the spire and the ground floor, still with some decorations that made it famous before the Second World War.

When I moved to Berlin in early 2012, I went to visit the church, but it was closed for repair at the time. It took me a couple of years 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 describe a little bit more about the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church and its history. I will start with the Old Church and then discuss the New Church and its reconstruction.

The Old Kaiser Wilhelm Church

As I mentioned before, the Kaiser Wilhelm Church was built in the 1890s by Kaiser Wilhelm II and his consort, Augusta Victoria, as an initiative to counter the German socialist movement by returning 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 was unfamiliar in the area surrounding Berlin, but it was so popular that it inspired other architectural projects in the area.

The foundation stone was laid on March 22nd, 1891, as it was 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 arrange. In 1956, a design competition was organized, and the winner, architect Egon Eiermann, proposed removing the remains of the ruined spire.

However, the public didn’t like it, and they protested to preserve it since it was characterized as the heart of Berlin.

The New Kaiser Wilhelm Church

The new church, designed 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 it contrasts 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 the altar. With something like 5,000 pipes, the organ is used for demonstrations, music pieces, and more, and you can check the church’s website to see it being used.

When you enter the older part of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, you will first see a mosaic of Archangel Michael fighting a dragon on the floor. More mosaics show 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, made from nails on the roof of the Coventry Cathedral in Great Britain.

For this article, I visited the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in January 2017. I was staying at the 25 Hours Hotel in West Berlin and realized I had never been inside the church. This was my opportunity, and it was great to finally go there.

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in the Heart of West Berlin

Breitscheidplatz, 10789 Berlin

Felipe Tofani

Felipe Tofani

Felipe Tofani is a passionate designer with a penchant for crafting unique experiences and a mixed taste in music. As the curator behind this blog's explorations, he takes pride in discovering fascinating destinations. Whether unearthing hidden gems or sharing captivating historical narratives, Felipe is the creative force driving the stories you find here. Join him on a journey of design, discovery, and the delightful rhythm of unconventional tunes.View Author posts