In the 1890s, on a square in the heart of Berlin, a striking new church was built under the direction of Kaiser Wilhelm II, and named in honor of his grandfather, Kaiser Wilhelm I. The Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtnis-Kirche was built to be a sign of contradiction to the social and political climate of the day—to sway the culture back toward traditional religious values. That sign remains to this day, despite the efforts of humanity to the contrary.
On the night of November 23, 1943, the church was heavily damaged by an air raid by Allied forces. Much of the building was destroyed in the bombing, as were all the buildings nearby. The damaged spire, the entrance hall, the altar, and the baptistry miraculously survived, as did many of the mosaics. And on the very first Sunday following the devastating bombing, the pastor took to the pulpit of ruins the following Sunday and preached a message of peace. Amazing.
Some years later, as the country was beginning to rebuild after the War, an initial decision to tear down what remained of the church was met with great protests. The church had by then become a silent witness to the horrors of war. The citizens were not willing to let its message be silenced. Ultimately, the church was preserved in its broken state (the locals affectionately call it “der hohle Zahn,” the “hollow tooth”), and a new church and spire were built adjacent to the ruins. The ruins of the church and spire still stand today as a sign of the destructive power of war, and yet of the endurance of timeless Christian virtues of hope, peace, mercy, and forgiveness.
Tragically, those virtues were once more put to the test. On the night of December 19, 2016, a large truck drove into the midst of the Christmas market in Breitscheidplatz, the square which is home to the Kaiser Wilhelm church. Our family visited that Christmas market many times. Other markets were more beautiful (in the shadow of a Charlottenburg castle, or the Gendarmenmarkt on the plaza of the Concert House), but being closest to our home, this is the one we visited most often.
It is where we bought our Christmas Pyramid and our real German Nutcracker,
where we fell in love with crepes eaten warm in the hand on cold December nights,
where my children’s faces glowed with the joy of the season mixed with the dizzying excitement of a carnival,
and it is the place from which many of the ornaments that grace our tree each year came. It is also the place where 12 people were killed, and many more injured. And perhaps equally injured is the sense of peace on earth and goodwill toward men. I know that sounds trite, but Germany was such a marvelously safe country when we lived there, and it seems as though that may no longer
be the case. Stories I have read in recent years include sexual assaults, fights and arson at refugee centers, destruction of religious statues, and many more sad and tragic accounts. I can only pray that I am wrong, that each of these incidents are isolated, and that they are not indicative of the end of a peace-loving, law-abiding culture.
May the Kaiser Wilhelm church continue to stand as a sign of the tragedy of war and of the good people who will continue to seek peace. I love Berlin. I will pray for you! Ich liebe Berlin. Ich werde für dich beten!
I am a homeschooling mom of six kids, married to a patient, supportive, and crazy smart husband, whom I met on the internet in the days of screaming modems. Raised on the east coast, I am happily raising my family in the midwest. I love to collect and share traditions, recipes, prayers, crafts, and activities for living out the Catholic Faith in my home and family.