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  • Writer's pictureLucy Walker

A Brief History of Neue Kirche in Berlin

What is the Neue Kirche?

The Neue Kirche (colloquially known as Deutscher Dom), or The New Church in English, is a splendid Baroque cathedral in Berlin that was built in the early 18th century and now features an exhibition on the history of the German parliament.

Neue Kirche at night

Neue Kirche History

This impressive church building is known colloquially as the Deutscher Dom (or German Cathedral). Twinned with the French Cathedral, located with pleasing geographical symbolism on the opposite side of Gendarmenmarkt, the Neue Kirche (or New Church) was commissioned by Frederick I of Prussia in 1702. Frederick wanted to create a new neighbourhood, modestly named Friedrichstadt after his own glorious self, and needed a church to anchor it. Frederick practised the kind of Protestantism descended from French-Swiss 16th-century reformer Jean Calvin, and his new church was intended to serve a Calvinist congregation. Within a few years, however, the Neue Kirche became a simultaneum, which meant that it served two religious communities, the Calvinists and the Lutherans.

Like most of the Friedrichstadt neighbourhood, the Neue Kirche was built in a simplified Baroque style. Outsiders to Protestantism often associate its architecture with austerity, and while the Neue Kirche is more angular than opulent, it certainly possesses grandeur. The original design is somewhat obscured, though, by additions made in the 1780s by Frederick the Great. He wanted to emulate the look of St Paul’s Cathedral in London, so he employed Carl von Gontard to design a classical portico for the Neue Kirche and tall domed towers for both Gendarmenmarkt churches.

In 1848 a series of revolutions, mostly Communist, sprung up throughout Europe. The most famous was the French Revolution, which brought down King Louis Phillippe and brought Napoleon III to power. Yet uprisings also occurred right across the fragmented German states, which were dissatisfied with the political and social order. In Berlin, barricades were erected in the streets. Middle-class liberals pushed for democratic freedoms, while working-class radicals demanded economic change; across the patchwork of states, the idea that the German people should unite in a politically coherent nation took hold. When the revolutionaries laid out their fallen comrades on the steps of the Deutscher Dom on the 22nd of March 1848, over 40,000 Berliners congregated in Gendarmenmarkt to pay their respects. It was a powerful display of grief, and remarkably inclusive: an Evangelical minister, a Catholic priest and a Jewish Rabbi addressed the audience. The king had seemingly acquiesced to the revolutionaries’ demands, and so the crowd was peaceful and filled with pride. This moving scene was depicted by Adolph Menzel in a painting entitled The Laying-Out of the Fallen March Revolutionaries, 1848. Menzel wrote that the Prussian king was in attendance: ‘his head shone from a distance like a white spot. It may have been the scariest day of his life’. Within a few months it was clear that the revolution had failed, but for a moment, the Neue Kirche was the site of an unprecedented moment of German unity in Prussia.

The Neue Kirche and its tower were severely burned by Allied bombs in 1943. It would never reopen as a church, but it was carefully rebuilt between the 1980s and ‘90s. Today, the building is home to a permanent exhibition about the history of the German parliament, where you can learn more about the revolutionary events leading up to the famous ‘laying-out’ in Gendarmenmarkt.

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