blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Monday, June 1, 2015

The Garrison Church, Potsdam

Painting of Potsdam's Garnisonkirche in the 1820s
On Thursday our German conversation group listened to a visitor from Potsdam, the father of one of our group members, telling us about plans for the reconstruction and history of the Garnisonkirche (Garrison Church) in Potsdam. He also showed us a documentary film about the church and during the course of the morning we gained quite an insight into the history of Germany itself.

Originally, this church was called the Heilig-Kreuz-Kirche (Church of the Holy Cross), and it might have been a less controversial subject, had it stayed that way. In its military context the church became Preussens Herz, the heart of Prussia. J.S. Bach came to play its organ, the organ pipes being at the church's focal point, directly above the pulpit. Beneath the pulpit was the altar and beneath the altar a throne. Built in the 1730s, this was the parish church of the Kings of Prussia, beginning with Friedrich the 1st and 2nd (Frederic the Great). The latter wasn't religious and didn't wish to be buried in the church like his father, but he was, and before long, the crypt containing their tombs had become a place of pilgrimage. In 1806, Napoleon made a point of visiting it.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries the Garnisonkirche at the centre of Potsdam became the "anchor" of Prussian identity and imperialism, eventually––unfortunately––standing as a symbol of the Nazi régime also. Die Kirche wurde wegen seiner Geschichte gehasst, because of its history the church was hated, explained our speaker, aber ein Gebäude kann nichts dafür, was in ihm geschieht. The building itself couldn't help what happened in it. In the film we saw footage of the eager young men setting off for the 1st World War, with their church in the background, cheered on by the crowds. When they came back defeated in 1918 everything was different and Potsdam became a sort of Museumsdorf, a reminder of happier days. Then came a Day of Hope, however, when Hindenburg, after the burning down of the Reichstag in Berlin, moved his parliament to Potsdam. It was March 21st, 1933, and on that day, much was made of the fact that Hindenburg shook hands with Hitler in front of the church, with a hundred thousand spectators on the streets. A Rebirth of the Nation, they called it.

Remains of the Garnisonkirche, 1945
Then came the 2nd World War. In 1943 Hitler ordered a strictly secret commando to remove the sarcophagus containing the remains of Frederic the Great from the church to an underground bunker, in case of damage. By 1944 the church was still intact, but it didn't remain so for much longer. The British RAF bombing raids of April 1945 targeted Potsdam railway station, but the fires spread, and the body of the church collapsed along with all the buildings around it. The church tower, 88m high, survived the air raid, becoming a memorial to the destruction that had occurred, but when the communists took control, they didn't like it there. Das muß weg, das Ding!––we must get rid of it, the authorities decided, and in June 1968 after a week of dynamiting operations, purposely on a Sunday, the tower fell. Jetzt fällt alles zusammen! mourned the people of Potsdam to whom it had meant something. The communists built a cuboidal, concrete computer centre in its place.

All things are transient, and now the Rechenzentrum itself is being moved elsewhere (at a cost of €60 million), which gives an opportunity for the Garnisonkirche to rise from its ashes once again; the proponents of this project consider it equivalent to Dresden's Frauenkirche and want the resurrected church tower to become a symbol not of imperialism or Nazism but of reconciliation.

Some of our German conversation group signed a petition to support them.

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