Garrison Church (Potsdam)

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File:Potsdam Garnisonskirche um 1900.jpg
Garrison Church in Potsdam, 1900

The protestant Garrison Church Potsdam (Template:Lang-de) was the most important Baroque church in Potsdam and until 1918 was the place of worship for the Prussian court. The architect Philipp Gerlach was commissioned by king Friedrich Wilhelm I. to build the church for members of the court and for the soldiers garrisoned in Potsdam. It was consecrated on August 17, 1732 and was soon well attended by both the civilian and military communities. Friedrich Wilhelm I was buried at his request in the crypt of the church in 1740. In 1786 his son Frederick the Great was buried there against his will.

History can hardly happen in a more compact form than here: Both Czar Alexander I and Napoleon visited Friedrichs II's grave. It was here that the first freely elected Potsdam City Parliament met and the Lutheran and Reformed Churches celebrated their union. The Nazis misused the church for their so-called Day of Potsdam, and for many members of the 20th July conspiracy it was where they and their families worshipped.

The nave and bell tower were destroyed by fire during an air raid on April 14, 1945. Only the outside walls remained standing. In 1950 the Holy Cross Chapel was built within the cruciform walls of the bell tower. A new congregation met there for services until 1968 when, under orders from Walter Ulbricht's Communist Party, the ruins were demolished on a summer Sunday. In its place a Computing Center was built in 1971. In 1968 the GDR ignored all protests and brutally destroyed the ruins of a church, which could have been reconstructed, and left behind an empty space which continues to demand an important community effort to rectify.

The Garnisonkirche is a monument of national importance and should be a city symbol - a place of learning and a workshop for the advancement of freedom an reconciliation. Since 2004 it belongs to the International Community of the Cross of Nails.

In 2004 a group of highly motivated citizens founded the non-profit Promotion Committee for the Reconstruction of the Garnisonkirche followed by the Garnisonkirche Potsdam foundation in June 2008. Both organizations work together for the reconstruction of the Garnisonkirche Potsdam not only as a parish church for its citizens but also as a reminder that future German-European cooperation is possible and essential. The German National Committee for Cultural an Media Affairs declared the Garnisonkirche Potsdam to be an important cultural monument and offered 12 million Euro in support for its reconstruction.

The Building

The Bell Tower

The bell tower of the Garnisonkirche, a dominating structure, measured 290ft and reached well into the street in front of it. Its side walls were interrupted by tall, narrow windows, while its corners were ornamented with sculptures. Above the main entrance on "Broad Street" (Breiten Straße) was a panel with gold letters which read, "Friderich Wilhelm, King of Prussia, had this tower built in honor of God next to the Garnisonkirche. Anno 1735". Some of the letters may still be seen today. The foundation of the bell tower was solidly built and tapered to the upper stories. Lanterns formed the top story, built of oak with a copper-covered roof crowned with weather vane. Five bass tone bells produced by Paul Meurer completed the Carillon inherited from the first Garnisonkirche, consecrated in 1722. Various chorals were played on the hour and secular music on the half hour until the end of the 18th century. From 1797 until 1945 Bach's "Lobe den Herrn" (Praise the lord, oh my soul) played alternatively with "Üb immer Treu und Redlichkeit" from Ludwig Hölty, a theme Mozart used for Papageno's aria in the Magic Flute. In between short melodies, some played upon request, rang out over the city every 7,5 minutes.


File:Garnisonkirche um 1827.jpg
Garnisonkirche around 1827, oil painting by Carl Hasenpflug

From 1720 to 1722, the first Potsdam Garrison Church was built as a square half-timbered building on the plantation between the roads Dortustrasse and Yorckstrasse. After the completion the military community and the German Reformed Church moved in. Regular church services were held.

The swampy land in Potsdam and the inadequate foundation of the building required demolition plans a few years later as the building began to sag. The king Friedrich Wilhelm I commissioned the architect Philipp Gerlach to build a new church. Fascinated by the high church towers he had seen on a visit to Holland, he decided, that the garrison church should also receive a high tower. Constructions began in 1731 and were completed in 1735. In 1740, Frederick Wilhelm I, who built the church, was interred there, as was his son Frederick the Great in 1786. Their coffins were removed prior to the church's destruction.

On September 27, 1817, King Frederick William III announced that on the 300th anniversary of the Reformation Potsdam's Reformed court and garrison congregation, led by Court Preacher Rulemann Friedrich Eylert, and the Lutheran garrison congregation, then both using the Calvinist Garrison Church would unite into one Evangelical Christian congregation on Reformation Day, October 31. Frederick William expressed his desire to see the Protestant congregations around Prussia follow this example, and become Union congregations.

Both, Calvinist and Lutheran church, were then subject to state supervision, carried out by the newly created Template:Lang (Template:Lang-de, est. in 1817). Karl vom Stein zum Altenstein was appointed as minister. In the years that followed, many Lutheran and Reformed congregations did follow the example of Potsdam, and became single merged congregations, while others maintained their former Lutheran or Reformed denomination.

On 21 March 1933, which became known as the 'Day of Potsdam', after a sermon held by Otto Dibelius, the competent pastor, the new Chancellor Adolf Hitler and Reich President Paul von Hindenburg ceremonially opened the first Reichstag of the Third Reich. This event served as a propaganda pitch to the old aristocratic and conservative class, to demonstrate that the new regime appreciated the sacredness of old Prussia. This venue was chosen for both its historical significance with connections to Frederick the Great and beyond, and the fact that the Reichstag in Berlin had been burned in an alleged Communist plot to seize the government. In a bomb attack on 14 April 1945 the Church seemed to remain intact. Then, however, the adjacent "Long Barn" began to burn and the fire reached the church.

Ruin in 1966 shortly before demolition

Walter Ulbricht, first secretary of the SED Central Committee, visited the city in 1967 and decided that the garrison church, as well as the other ruins of war, must be demolished. This was done in 1968.

Planned reconstruction

The tower and steeple are planned to be reconstructed as a first step, followed by the whole building. The groundbreaking ceremony, at which numerous celebrities such as Richard von Weizsäcker and Manfred Stolpe participated, was held on 14 April 2005.

There has been some opposition to the reconstruction of the Garrison Church, both from members of the Lutheran church and also from left wing political groups, due to fears of it being seen as a glorification of Prussian militarism and a rallying point for Neo-Nazis. The church was even labelled the "Yasukuni Shrine of Germany". A citizen's group opposing the reconstruction was formally founded in May 2011.


The tower of the garrison church, with a total height of 88.43 metres, extended into the street and thus formed their appearance. The spire was an oak engineered floor on which a weather vane was installed. The side walls of the tower were broken on either side with narrow longitudinal windows with decorative figures at the corners. Above the main portal was an inscription in golden letters, which read: "Friedrich Wilhelm, King of Prussia built this tower along with the garrison church for the glory of God in 1735." Some of the letters still exist.

File:Bundesarchiv Bild 170-123, Potsdam, Glockenspiel der Garnisonkirche.jpg
The carillon in the tower of the Garrison church in Potsdam

The carillon

A carillon of 35 bells was installed in a small tower on the roof of the first Garrison Church of Potsdam in 1722. It was cast in 1721 by the Dutch bell-founder Jan Albert de Grave from Amsterdam. In 1721, de Grave was the only bell founder in the north of the Netherlands who could cast and tune bells. He was married to the widow of Claude Fremy. Claude Fremy was a pupil of the famous Hemony brothers in the city bell-foundry in Amsterdam. In 1733, the carillon was enlarged with 5 bass bells cast and installed by Paul Meurer. During its first years, the carillon only played automatically although, as can be seen on the picture, there also was a baton keyboard, probably installed with the bells in 1733. The hammers on the outside of the bells were used by the automatic mechanism of the carillon with a large playing drum. The drum was set with new melodies twelve times a year. The instrument was non transposing carillon of 40 bells tuned in meantone temperament with a bourdon of C of approximately 1900 kg. Ellerhorst states that the complete carillon weight was 10,180 kg.

Daily, the carillon daily played "Template:Lang" from the opening lines of the poem "Template:Lang" ("The Old Farmer to His Son") by Ludwig Christoph Heinrich Hölty (1748–1776). The text read as follows: "Template:Lang" Translation: "Use always fidelity and honesty / Up to your cold grave; / And stray not one inch / From the ways of the Lord." To many, these lines are the very embodiment of all Prussian virtues.

The carillon was destroyed by fire resulting from the bombings sustained at the end of the war in 1945.


In 1987, a group from the Template:Lang (Iserlohn Paratroopers) formed the Template:Lang (TPG) to support the reconstruction of the church's bells. They commissioned a new carillon to be hung in the new tower of the Garrison church. For 470,000 Deutsche Mark they ordered 40 new bells which have the names of the sponsors (private and militarily regiments). Some of the new bells have names of lost parts of Germany, such as: East Prussia, Königsberg, Silesia, Breslau (Wroc?aw), Pomerania (Pommern), Stettin (Szczecin) and West Prussia. On 14 April 1991, the new bells were given to the city of Potsdam and mounted temporarily in a steel framework. In the future, the TPG, in the words of its chairman Max Klaar, hopes to rebuild the Garrison Church tower as a symbol of peace and the formal reunification of the two Germanys.




  • Reinhard Appel, Andreas Kitschke: Der Wiederaufbau der Potsdamer Garnisonkirche. Lingen Verlag, Köln 2006, ISBN 3-937490-70-1.
  • Ludwig Bamberg: Die Potsdamer Garnisonkirche. Baugeschichte - Ausstattung - Bedeutung. Lukas Verlag, Berlin 2006, ISBN 3-936872-86-4.
  • Laura J. Meilink-Hoedemaker Article about The Amsterdam bell-foundry under Jan Albert de Grave 1699-1729, in 'Klok en Klepel' the Dutch bulletin of the 'Nederlandse Klokkenspel Vereniging.' nr 115 Dec 2011
  • Luc Rombouts: Zingend Brons, uitgeverij Davidsfonds Leuven, 2010, ISBN 978-90-5826-720-7 (in Dutch; the English version will come soon)
  • Winfred Ellerhorst: Das Glockenspiel Deutschland 1939 (small booklet)

External links

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