Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church
Emperor William Memorial Church, Gedächtniskirche, Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche
Egon Eiermann called it his life’s greatest achievement: the new Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, or Gedächtniskirche, located on Berlin’s Breitscheidplatz was consecrated in 1961. It was, as the architect himself described it, a successful “game of the new around the old”. He integrated the remains of the church, which had been mostly destroyed in the Second World War, into a self-assertive new building complex. The tower ruins, rising up from the ensemble, became a monument for peace and is today one of Berlin’s most significant landmarks.
The original church had been built at the end of the 19th century as a memorial to Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm I, according to the designs of Franz Schwechten. Aerial bombings in 1943 and 1945 destroyed all but the tower, which was left severely damaged and forsaken to increasing decay. Architect and designer Egon Eiermann won the 1957 competition to build the new church. His initial proposal to completely demolish the ruin met with fierce opposition – for many Berliners, the towering relic had become a symbol of the liberated city. Eiermann revised his design to supplement the damaged structure with four free-standing buildings of reinforced concrete with polygonal ground plans: an octagonal sanctuary and a rectangular entry foyer, along with a rectangular chapel and a hexagonal bell tower.
Characteristic of the new church are its façades: grids of concrete honeycombs embedded with more than 20,000 predominantly blue glass panels. Their play of colours was composed by the glass artist Gabriel Loire of Chartres, France. The central building’s interior is particularly enchanting: the outer shell is separated from the inner chapel space, creating a soaring, high-ceilinged open ambulatory. Light penetrates into the devotional space, but noises are dampened, making the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church a unique place of stillness in the middle of the big city. Eiermann also designed most of the interior furnishings himself, including the altar, pulpit and baptismal font, lights and chairs, the flooring of round, glazed ceramic tiles and even the casing for the pipe organ.
Despite initial difficulties, Egon Eiermann’s church has grown into a lively sacred centre of Berlin that exudes powerful historic symbolism. The ensemble has been undergoing refurbishment in several stages since 2010. [DB/DK]
Contact and opening hours
Please inform yourself about the current opening times and applicable access and hygiene regulations on site.
Directions by local public transport:Nächstgelegener Bahnhof der Deutschen Bahn: Berlin Zoologischer Garten
Nächstgelegene Haltestelle ÖPNV: U Kurfürstendamm, U+S Zoologischer Garten (Bus M19, M29, M46, X9, X10, X34, 100, 109, 110, 145, 200, 204, 245)
Book: Bauhaus 100 Sites of Modernism
Extraordinary sites associated with the Bauhaus and modernism can be found throughout Germany—pioneering architecture that has enduringly shaped our understanding of life and work, learning and living. This travel guide brings the historical and architectural traces of over 100 examples of Neues Bauen building to life, making tangible the impact of the historical Bauhaus beyond the school, its sites and its time.