Duisburg. Köln. Velbert-Neviges. Deutschland. Advertisement. 2017, the 500th anniversary of Luther’s 95 Theses, is a major event on the Rhine and the Ruhr. We took a look around the #urbanana area, since the 20th century witnessed outstanding sacred architecture built here by great church architects like Otto Bartning, Domenikus Böhm, Fritz Schaller, and Rudolf and Maria Schwarz. In our two-part series, we present both renowned and lesser-known churches. Part 2.
First part of our story on sacred buildings on the Rhine and Ruhr: here.
The church of the Catholic college community in Cologne is not pleasant, harmonious or cheerful. It is brutal, symbolic and direct. Reinforced concrete branches clutch the brittle glass; they do not aspire to heaven but rather cower and bury themselves in the earth. The architect Heinz Buchmann, and the sculptor Josef Rikus modelled this room sculpture as a metaphor for all that is earthly. Constructivist branches made of concrete break through the massive floor plate, branch out on the surface and float pleasingly over the step-less, cavernous nave. A truly breathtaking building.
The diva of modern sacred buildings in Germany, the pilgrimage church Maria, Königin des Friedens (Mary, Queen of Peace) in Neviges is an eccentric apparition. Some are speechlessly enraptured, others find it “simply hideous” (as experienced on our visit). For me, it was incomprehensible. The concrete-grey mountain imposes from afar. A pilgrimage path leads past a set of stairs (leading to elevated function rooms) up to the main entrance of the church. The entrance seems humble when faced with the massive structure towering over it. Once you have slipped inside, your eyes need a few moments to get used to the darkness – but then the 30 metre high ceiling of concrete folds and the reflections of the vividly coloured windows, typical of Böhm, hit you with their full power.
In Cologne, Gottfried Böhm built the Catholic church Christi Auferstehung (Christ’s Resurrection). The sculptural building stands elevated in the flow of the Clarenbach canal, which leads to the Aachener pond. The building is nested within itself many times over. A set of stairs winds around the exterior of the bell tower. Grey concrete and red brick are artfully combined on the façade and in the interior. The different niches and rooms serve different purposes in the Catholic liturgy. In a room originally conceived of as a baptismal chapel, a memorial chapel was installed for the beatified Edith Stein. This German philosopher and women’s rights activist of Jewish origins was a builder of bridges between Christians and Jews. She died on 9 August, 1942 in the concentration camp Ausschwitz-Birkenau.
The building by architect Zvi Hecker develops from the row of houses on Springwall at the adjacent Altstadtpark in the form of a structural sculpture reminiscent of a hand or an open book. The structure’s five axes refer to places of Jewish history in Duisburg, especially to the site of the old synagogue built in 1875 and burnt down in 1938. The concrete construction engages with the Altstadtpark (Old City Park) like an open book and thus creates a relationship to Dani Karavan’s garden, the public area and the harbour basin. It is also meant to symbolise, in the gesture of an outstretched hand, the openness of Judaism.
The wooden house
A free-standing bell tower and a wide outdoor staircase mark the entrance to the evangelical Brückenschlag (Bridge-Building) community in Cologne-Stammheim. Sauerbruch Hutton placed church and chapel carefully in an existing grove of trees that now serves as a place for events. The simple buildings were erected from prefabricated elements of timber panels, clad on the exterior with a diagonal wooden casing of Siberian Larch and varnished with grey. The interior is minimalistic. A floor-to-ceiling screen made of 3,800 wooden slats in 27 different colours rises behind the altar. Across from it, there is a frosted pane of glass on which the shadow play of the trees in front of the church emerges. A magical space.
Mosques often have a sort of “back-garden” experience in Germany. The common aim seems to be merely not to stand out, merely not to take up too much space. Why, though? After all, Islam has belonged in Germany and Europe for a long time. Stupidity, ignorance and arrogance will not change that. In Cologne, a contemporary mosque complex is just being finished at a prominent location. The architectural language of the Böhm family is as usual light and eccentric. Luckily, this is no neo-Ottoman confection. It remains to be seen whether the DITIB (Turkish Islamic Union for the Institution of Religion) community is as transparent and open as the architecture of its central mosque: unfortunately, there are follies on all sides.