chapter  13
The use of ruins in postwar German church reconstruction
ByKathleen James-Chakraborty
Pages 14

The silhouette of the ruined steeple of the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche has beenespecially since the completion in 1961 of the reconstructed Protestant church by Egon Eiermann that stands beside it-one of the most familiar symbols of first,West Berlin, and since 1990, of the reunified city. Standing near the beginning of the Kurfürstendamm, the late nineteenth-century boulevard that became the premiere commercial artery of the city’s west end long before Berlin’s division at the end ofWorldWar II, its prominent location and impressive height helped it to stand for both the suffering caused by war and the possibility of rebirth. Indeed, even before Eiermann placed his foyer, sanctuary, tower and chapel next to the fragments of its predecessor, the juxtaposition of the jagged ruin of the steeple of the original church (largely destroyed by bombs on 23 November 1943) and the new cinemas, shops, cafes and offices that clustered around it after the war, was one of the city’s most compelling images. Paradoxically, this supposedly sacred structure, which was always as much a political as a religious statement, served-until the completion in 1999 of Norman Foster’s new dome for the Reichstag-as the visual shorthand for the capitalist showpiece thatWest Berlin, despite its highly subsidized economy, purported to be. For decades, photographs of the Gedächtniskirche, holding its own amid the city’s illuminated advertising and night-time traffic, were a staple of guidebooks and popular accounts of the city.