Another one bites the dust?

Another one bites the dust?

18th August 2008, Comments 0 comments

Will Berlin’s most famous church ruin be rescued?

When the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church was destroyed by a British bombing raid in World War II, all that remained was its gaping, ruined tower.

But Berliners protested when it was proposed the blackened, badly shattered belfry, which rises almost 70 meter over the western part of the city, should be destroyed.

As a result, the spire, built in 1895, and now nicknamed by locals as the "Hollow Tooth," was preserved -- for a while.

Since then, it has remained a famous and poignant reminder of the horrors of war, as well as being a symbol of West Berlin's determination and extraordinary postwar recovery, during the time when it was surrounded by communist East Germany.


These days, the gaunt and jagged church tower, which every year attracts thousands of tourists, is making news of another kind.

Located at the downtown end of the Kurfuerstendamm shopping boulevard, the tower is in a dire state of decay. Traffic vibration along the famous strip, say city officials, have caused its walls to crumble, with chunks threatening to fall off onto pedestrians below.

Earlier, church authorities put the cost of repairing its neo-Gothic facade at 3.5 million euros (5.1 million dollars) but now, due to continuing disintegration, the cost has soared to 4.1 million euros.

The Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church Foundation has in recent years raised 500,000 euros in a "rescue the tower" campaign.

The Berlin city government a year ago pledged 1.5 million euros to the repair fund, with the city's development senator, Ingeborg Junge-Reyer, stressing the "great symbolic significance of the old church tower for the city."

Soccer players join in

Hertha BSC, the top Berlin soccer club, has also got involved. The club and the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church have something in common: The church was built between 1891-95 by Kaiser Wilhelm II to honor his grandfather, Kaiser Wilhelm II, considered the founder of Germany. Meanwhile, the soccer club was founded in 1892.

Hertha manager Dieter Hoeness has confidently predicted the club will be able to raise the five-figures needed for the fund, but Hertha's own finances are shaky at present, with the club deeply in the red.

Charles Jeffrey Gray, 85, a former British pilot who carried out bombing raids over Germany, was one of the first to call last year for the rescue of Berlin's most famous wartime ruin, contributing 500 British pounds (930 dollars) to help spur the campaign.

"The tower must remain as a reminder for future generations of the horror of war," Gray said. He fired off a letter to Wolfgang Kuhla, chairman of the memorial church management board, urging that everything possible be done to save the tower.

It was a Nov. 22 1943 raid on Berlin by Lancaster bombers of Britain's Royal Air Force that destroyed the church. And Gray's last bombing raid over Berlin was in February 1944 when around that time, 500 to 700 planes were involved in raids over Germany, a reprisal for earlier nightly operations over London by German bombers.

Last November, the former pilot and his wife Joan, 87, accompanied by their son Stephen and his 56-year-old German-born wife Gerlinde, flew to Berlin to participate in a fund-raising concert attended by Chancellor Angela Merkel.

It was held at the stained-glass modern chapel built in 1961 flanking the ruined tower on the Breitscheid Platz, and was, said Gray, a "very moving occasion."

A symbol

During the 1960s, the unusual octagonal concrete and glass construction became a symbol of defiance against communist oppression.

Marko Rosteck, the Berlin urban development office spokesman, concedes "the tower is badly damaged," and says the authorities are very much interested in seeing that "one of Berlin's most important symbols is preserved."

Church authorities, buffeted by financial setbacks in the past decade due to a major slump in church tax income, have been alarmed recently by a surveyor's report on the fragile state of the building, which also houses a small museum.

Kuhla, who has appealed to German Culture Minister Bernd Neumann for financial assistance, talks of the ruin being the most "significant memorial for reconciliation in Berlin and possibly in Germany."

"When we check our finances early next spring, we hope enough money will be there, so that a start can at last be made on the repairs," he said.

-- Clive Freeman/Expatica

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