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Hallelujah, free wi-fi in Germany!

Kathleen Schuster
May 20, 2016

It is nearly impossible to find wi-fi in Germany. So, in an answer to everyone's prayers, Germany's Protestant Church has spread the good news: free internet hotspots. Or rather, "Godspots."

A picture of a crucifix hanging in the St. Ansgarii church in Bremen
Image: Pfarrer Frank-Michael Theuer

Modern miracles do exist, it seems, and Germany's Protestant Church just proved it: a number of its churches in Berlin and the surrounding area are going to start offering free wi-fi.

Compared to other high-tech countries around the world, Germany lags behind when it comes to providing free Internet, with a measly two wi-fi hotspots for every 10,000 people.

That figure contrasts sharply with the rising number of Internet users. According to a survey by public broadcasters ARD and ZDF, over 80 percent of Germans were online as of 2015 and the number of people using internet on-the-go rose to 55 percent - a 5-percent increase from 2014.

This problem frustrates not only Germans, but also the rising number of foreign visitors who are left scratching their heads at the difficulty of finding an internet connection outside of their hotel.

But how - as Germany's Süddeutsche Zeitung recently put it so well - do you explain the term "Störerhaftung" to a foreigner? The ominous sounding term refers to the legal responsibility carried by anyone whose internet connection is used for illegal downloads. So, if a customer used a café's wi-fi to download a movie or music, for example, the café owner could face a fine in the thousands of euros.


The timing of the Godspot announcement is interesting, considering that the Protestant Church of Berlin, Brandenburg and Silesian Oberlausitz, which is overseeing the regional project, could have waited until the law changes in the fall.

An infographic showing where to find free wi-fi in Europe

Instead, it opted to move forward and rely on its lawyers for any legal issues. This might come in handy considering that anyone can use a "Godspot" in the church vicinity without restrictions.

"What we're doing is the right step, it's a decisive step and it's a necessary step when you see safe and trustworthy communication as an important topic," Fabian Kraetschmer, who leads the regional church's IT, told DW.

"It's also what we've been doing for centuries. Think: 'seal of the confessional'."

Manna from heaven in the wi-fi desert

Having a church spearhead connectivity seems odd in an ever more secular Germany. Of the 23.6 million registered Protestants, fewer than 1 million attend church regularly, according to official Church figures.

And even though the landing page is clearly oriented around informing users about the Christian faith before they move on, there seems to be little criticism.

A picture of Germany's Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church
Berlin's Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church will be one of the first 220 churches to offer free wi-fi as part of godspot. Berlin is also investing funds in free internet access, but those plans will be implemented graduallyImage: Getty Images/A. Rentz

As Internet activist and journalist Markus Beckedahl told DW: "Municipalities often fail to provide even minimal internet access as part of their public services and because of that people are putting their hope in civil society - including in the Catholic and Protestant churches."

Printing press is to Luther as internet is to Godspot?

The goal is to reach 3,000 churches by May 2017. If all goes well, the project could be expanded across the country, including in Catholic churches.

Perhaps a coincidence, the move to reconnect with the people comes just ahead of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Church. As its IT director Fabian Kraetschmer points out, the Reformation has Gutenberg's invention of the printing press to thank for its success. Now, spiritual leaders should consider how the communication revolution of the internet could help churches evolve.

Kraetschmer emphasizes, though, that the function of Godspot isn't comparable to that of a business trying to lure customers with high-speed internet.

A picture of Berlin's French Cathedral
The wi-fi signal will vary from location to location. Berlin's French Cathedral will also be part of the Godspot project. The signal is expected to extend across GendarmenmarktImage: Public Domain

"Not everything a church does is for personal gain. It sees itself as a type of organization that does good as a matter of principle and tries to reach people with its joyful message," he says.

As for the passersby who just want to check their e-mail, that's ok, too, according to Kraemtscher. In fact, it's "nothing new."

"Churches have always been places that people could ignore or that people could enter to cool off from the heat, enjoy the art, rest themselves. They have always been perceived in different ways. And that's how it's going to be with Godspot."

Now instead of the church bells ringing out, it will be the coveted internet signal beaming from the heights of church steeples that draws the masses. And that kind of reliable connection might get even the most secular German to let out an honest to God "Amen!"

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