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  • Writer's pictureAnna Dorothea Ker, MA

A Brief History of St Agnes-Kirche in Berlin

What is St Agnes-Kirche?

St Agnes-Kirche is a modernist church in Berlin that has been transformed into a cultural hub, which includes the König Galerie, a leading gallery of contemporary art.

St Agnes-Kirche, Brutalist church in Berlin

Gunnar Klack, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

St Agnes-Kirche History

Quietly assured in its four-square Brutalism, the cubic nave of the former church complex of St Agnes rises above the treetops of the leafy Kreuzberg backstreet it calls home. Designed in the mid-1960s by Berlin architect Werner Düttmann, this subdued architectural jewel was ahead of its time. Initially resisted or derided because of the perceived incongruity of its cultural function and its design, today it receives admiration in equal measure from aficionados of art and architecture, and others, for whom it remains a site of cultural pilgrimage.

After 40 years of service as a Catholic church, St Agnes was deconsecrated in 2004; and eight years later, the complex was leased by a big name on Berlin’s art scene, art dealer Johann König. Hailing from a lineage of art historians, art booksellers and gallerists, König had founded his own gallery in 2002 at the age of just 21. With his young family for company, he embarked on the journey of setting up shop – and house – in the former nave and community centre respectively, which had been slowly falling into disrepair.

An intensive yet sensitive restoration process – following the stringent minimal intervention requirements of Germany’s monument protection laws – was undertaken by local architecture practices Brandlhuber + Emde, Burlon, and Riegle Riewe. Incorporating 200 tons of concrete, the addition of an extra level, and an intricate system of heating and hidden pipework, the well-considered collaboration earned the renovation the 2016 Berlin Architecture Prize. In the city many deem the European capital of contemporary architecture, that’s quite an honour.

Today, the König Gallery occupies the entire expanse of the former St Agnes nave. Its ground floor is home to the art institution’s offices – the hub from which the gallery’s 40 plus artists are represented, a micro-shop purveying playful König merchandise alongside an eclectic array of publications, as well as a small exhibition space. Heading up the slab-like stairs and onto the towering first-floor viewing hall reveals the crowning glory of this gallery experience: an enormous rectangular room softened by the textured concrete of its raw walls. While the walls are windowless, soft light filters in from skylight openings high above – its design demonstrates the continuities between galleries and Modernist churches, both ideal settings to display art.

A small, seasonal sculpture garden completes the picture, while the other buildings contain a select few apartments (including the König family residence) commercial offices, and various cultural enterprises, sealing the site’s status as one of the most fashionable fixtures on the art circuit in both the city and beyond.

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