Posted by Rafiq A. Tschannen
Intercession Cathedral at Red Square. Moscow, Russia
By Matthias Schulz
Source: Spiegel Online International
Dwindling church attendance and dire financial straits are forcing the Catholic and Protestant Churches in Germany to sell off church buildings en masse. Some are demolished, while others are turned into restaurants or indoor rock climbing centers.
The crew tasked with demolishing the Holy Family Church in the northern German town of Barmstedt arrived bright and early and began by removing the baptismal font. Next, a bulldozer moved in and knocked down the main church hall and the bell tower. In the space of a just a few hours, this house of worship to the Almighty was reduced to a pile of rubble.
“Very painful,” is how Rev. Stefan Langer describes the demolition of this church north of Hamburg. For years, Langer oversaw baptisms, weddings and services here, but now the former church grounds stand nearly empty. The congregation has put the plot of land up for sale, advertising the property as “developable land” in a “prime location,” and asking a price of €310,000 ($416,000).
“Upon this rock, I will build my church,” Jesus said with confidence. He said nothing, though, about demolishing those churches.
Two millennia later, churches are being forced to make dramatic cuts due to dire financial straits and declining membership. “Between 1990 and 2010 we closed 340 churches, and of those 46 were demolished,” says Thomas Begrich, head of finances for the Evangelical Church of Germany (EKD), Germany’s largest federation of Protestant churches. This, Begrich says, is only the beginning. “It may be necessary to give up an additional 1,000 buildings,” he said.
Churches are being demolished throughout Germany. Take, for example, the city of Frankfurt am Main. In the 1950s, when Konrad Adenauer was German chancellor, there were 430,000 Protestants living in the city. Today, that number is 110,000. These declining numbers have forced the Church’s regional authorities to close every fourth house of worship.
Art Centers to Dance Halls
In Hamburg, meanwhile, a former Protestant church has ended up in the possession of the Muslim community for the first time, after a former church building in the Horn district of the city was sold in 2005 to a businessman who then sold the property to an Islamic center.
Things are no different for the Catholic Church. There are churches standing empty even in staunchly Catholic Bavaria, and one has even had to close in the famous pilgrimage site of Telgte, near Münster.
The central German town of Börssum, in the state of Lower Saxony, offers a typical example — the Church of Saint Bernward here is facing demolition. The church is named for Bishop Bernward of Hildesheim, who lived from around 960 to 1022 and built defensive towers and forts to protect his followers from attacks by Normans and other non-believers.