One thing that I loved and truly valued about the Berlin trip is the diversity of perspectives and interpretations shared amongst the group. It is easy to forget that not everyone sees the same way as you do, nor do they perceive, experience, appreciate and understand in a standardised way. So, as we ventured into the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin, I was prepared to encounter something wholly unique.
Much like the old and new cathedrals of Coventry, the original Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church was badly damaged in a bombing raid in 1943, and a new church building was built around the remaining ruins of the old church. The damaged spire of the old church has been retained and its ground floor has been made into a memorial hall.
The first thing I noticed upon seeing the buildings was the strikingly honest conservation of the damaged church. Much like the scars which the resurrected Jesus held out to his disciples, the building has retained its scars. Not only do I believe that this enables people to remember, reconcile and learn on a daily basis, it also encapsulates the community’s intention to honour the past, and to live alongside their scars. Instead of being overwhelmed by the presence of the imperfections, the church’s story is continued in a new form – much like the work of Jesus’ disciples and followers continued, and continues, his legacy.
I found it disarming seeing the new building incongruously juxtaposed with the remaining church building. It does not possess any of the traditional features of a church – no cross hung above the entrance, no towering spire, or angelic sculptures. It almost has a castlelike exterior, befitted with a draw bridge, proclaiming its regal significance. Its castle-like structure stands superior to the former building, as not only does it celebrate the one true king (Jesus as opposed to Kaiser Wilhelm), but it is also a stronghold filled with peace, rather than a flagship of power. It stands showing that a church is not defined by its physical building, but by the light and life which God shines, sustains and nurtures inside.
And what a beautiful light and life that is found within. The building is flooded with a cleansing sea of blue light, an effect created by over 20,000 stained glass inlays, so much so that upon crossing the threshold I felt that once again I had been baptised. It is a place where I felt cleansed. Like I was standing amid the parted red sea – next to Moses holding back the waters. Like I was walking towards Jesus on the water, the bubble-like tiles floating in the blue light beneath my feet. As I walked down the central aisle, I looked towards Jesus, whose face is stricken with anguish, and felt the space whisper,“have faith.”
So I had faith. I had faith as I was immersed within the baptism of cleansing light. I had faith as I felt my thirst for peace quenched by a waterfall. I had faith as I witnessed the diversity of the Christian community refracted and unified in the rays of light that shone through the uniquely fractured stained glass windows. I had faith. And in that faith I felt the light, the baptism, the thirst-quenching, sea-parting and walking on water power of God. I had faith and I saw the light testifying that when Christians gather in authenticity, and shine the light of God within a space, something inexpressibly beautiful is manifested.