Church reconstruction begins in Potsdam amid protests | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 30.10.2017
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Church reconstruction begins in Potsdam amid protests

The reconstruction of the Garrison Church in Potsdam has been a bone of contention from the start. As construction started on the eve of Reformation celebrations, protesters drew attention to the building's past.

Garnisonkirche Potsdam Deutschland (picture-alliance/akg-images)

Garrison Church in 1912

The construction of the 90-meter (295-foot) steeple of Potsdam's contentious Garrison Church started on Sunday with a religious service during which retired Lutheran bishop Wolfgang Huber said that "we know that the Garrison Church was associated with the baleful history of our country on more than just one occasion. This is exactly why we need to build a place of remembrance at this location."

Huber, who also heads the board of trustees on the project, added in his sermon that the new church was intended to become "something it had never embodied before: a center of peace and reconciliation."

About 300 people attended the service, while a group of roughly 50 people tried to heckle and interrupt the proceedings, displaying posters with slogans like "You don't have our blessing." Police had to interfere to keep the demonstrators at bay.

Construction at the site of the Garrison Church (picture-alliance/dpa/B. Settnik)

The first stone for the reconstruction was laid back in 2005, but delays in financing meant that it would take another 12 years for the project to begin

A building with a loaded history

Several organizations have been opposed to the reconstruction of the Garrison Church for many years on account of the building's history. Those opposing the reconstruction note — among other reasons — that in Prussian times the building served as a regimental church for the military to propagate war, and teach soldiers to obey orders even when faced with death.

Read more: 'Hitler bell' in German village sparks controversy

It is also the church in which Adolf Hitler was legitimized in the eyes of Germany's upper class. In March 1933, on the so-called "Day of Potsdam," Hitler stood flanked by storm-troopers in front of the church and shook hands with then-President Paul von Hindenburg - who died the following year, removing perhaps the last meaningful check on Hitler's developing dictatorship. The occasion at the church is seen as a landmark event cementing Hitler's hold on power.

Deutschland Drittes Reich Tag von Potsdam Adolf Hitler und von Papen (ullstein bild/Robert Sennecke)

Hitler with his cabinet ministers en-route to the Garrison Church on the 'Day of Potsdam'

The Garrison Church, or Garnisonkirche in German, was also the parish and regimental church of the Prussian royal family. The kings of Prussia, including Frederick the Great, were buried there. 

Regarded as a key work of architecture of the Prussian baroque era, the church was destroyed in 1968 — more than 20 after World War II — by order of the former communist East German government, even though the building has not been irreparably damaged by the war.

The changing face of Potsdam

Construction is expected to be completed by the year 2020. The initial estimate of the the building work is expected to cost 26.1 million euros ($27.7 million). For the first construction phase, Germany's national government has released some 12 million euros, according to a spokesman for the Garrison Church Foundation, Wieland Eschenburg. The foundation hopes to raise the outstanding 9 million euros needed to complete the steeple with donations.

Museum Barberini in Potsdam (Helge Mundt)

The Barberini Museum in Potsdam is the latest addition to the city's revival

Despite the price tag and the outstanding question of financing the remaining funds, supporters of the project say that the reconstruction of the steeple would return a historical element to Potsdam's skyline — similar to the Barberini Museum, which was reconstructed on the site of the Barberini Palace and opened its doors at the beginning of 2017.

sbc,ss/msh (dpa, epd)

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