What is the Kirchensteuer (Church tax)?
As an American and especially as a previous student of Lutheran theology, I’ve been often asked about the differences between the American and German churches. One of the main topics revolves around the Kirchensteuer that is imposed by the German government. Questions such as:
What kind of tax is the German Kirchensteuer? How is it determined?
Why does the government collect a tax to pay for German churches?
Do all churches receive money from the Kirchensteuer? And most often,
Does everyone have to pay the Kirchensteuer?
With the help of Wikipedia’s article on the subject, along with my personal experience from when I worked for a German congregation, I’ll address these questions in order.
In Germany, the Kirchensteuer accounts for approximately 70% of church revenues. The rest comes from private and public donations by individuals, foundations and other organizations. The tax is based on a person’s income and is withheld like other taxes from a person’s monthly net pay. In Berlin and much of Germany, the Kirchensteuer is 8% of the income tax. For example, if a person earns EUR 50,000 per year, the average income tax is 20% or EUR 10,000. 8% of this EUR 10,000 is directed to the church, which would be EUR 800 for the year.
Many European governments have a long history of imposing church taxes. In early German history, tribal leaders and later kings were directly responsible for funding and maintaining the clergy and churches. During the Reformation and the time after Martin Luther, local princes of the Holy Roman Empire were the official heads of their local Protestant churches and responsible for their maintenance. As the face of governance changed from monarchies to constitutional government, German churches were made independent of the local government and became funded by taxes paid by the citizens, who were now considered members of their church.
Not all churches in Germany are funded through the Kirchensteuer, but the large majority are. This majority includes the Roman Catholic, Protestant (called Evangelisch), Jewish, Old Catholic, and various other free religious communities. Since the early 20th century, protestant Freikirchen (independent churches) such as evangelical congregations have formed in Germany and they receive no funding from the Kirchensteuer. Consequently, they depend entirely on donations from parishioners and other organizations.
And the big question: Does everyone have to pay the Kirchensteuer? The answer is no, they do not. However, it is a tax that a taxpayer must “opt out” of by signing a form in which they renounce the religion of their birth and state they are now atheist. This is a popular strategy among college students in order to save as much money as possible. But as a former church office manager, I learned that declaring oneself exempt from the church tax can cause problems later in life. For example, when a wedding couple wants to marry in a German church, they must both be or become members of the church. And in addition to the paperwork and wait time involved, this often is only resolved when the returning church member pays his or her back taxes. The situation is also problematic when people are invited to become a Pate or Patin (godparent) of a child. Only church members in good standing can become godparents. I recommend people consider these potential life situations before they make the decision to opt out of the Kirchensteuer.
Regarding the life of our Kreuzberg-Mitte congregation during the Covid-19 pandemic, although our normal worship services have been cancelled, our main office and pastors can still be contacted. In addition, the Jacobi-Kirche at Oranienstraße 133 will have limited hours when it is open to the public for prayer. Please see elsewhere in this Bote newsletter for those opening times and the contact information for office manager and pastors. If you prefer to communicate in English or have questions for me, I am happy to respond. I pray for your health and well-being during this crisis.
Greg Gillum (email@example.com)
As the Kreuzberg-Mitte congregation of Berlin continues its preparations for Holy Week from 6. – 12. April and Easter Sunday on the 12th, we have been thrown the same curve ball (baseball metaphor) as the rest of the world: the Corona virus pandemic. Preventing the spread of this deadly cold virus is a top priority for us and consequently, we are instituting novel measures in order to protect visitors and members from possible infection. The main news as of the date of writing this article, 13. March, is that we plan to celebrate our weekly worship and prayer services as regularly scheduled. However, to mitigate passing illness to our dear friends and visitors, all other future events and concerts are cancelled until further notice.
In order to support both our seniors and others who are more susceptible to becoming severely ill, the congregation is organizing a team of younger people to help them by shopping or assisting in other ways as needed. The details of this program are not yet set, however our Gemeindebüro (church office) plans to remain open and will be reachable via telephone or email. Please feel free to contact Mariola Maxelon at the office at 030 61609616 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In addition to curtailing the number of meetings and events each week, the pastors and church council of Kreuzberg-Mitte have also instituted several protective measures for each of us to adhere to during worship. They include:
While we remain near through worship, please observe keeping some distance from others.
Rather than shaking hands for greeting or while passing the peace, we will make eye contact and smile at each other.
When possible, please keep 2-3 seats distance from each other. And
In addition to careful handwashing, using correct cough and sneezing strategies (into our elbows) needs to be diligently practiced.
While it is sad that we need to take such unusual measures during this viral pandemic, we can be certain that our Lord understands the changes we make to our worship experience. We plan to celebrate Holy Week as you will find scheduled in the center section of this Bote newsletter, giving our thanks and praise in fellowship with others – as well as praying together for the Lord’s gracious love and protection as His people in faith. If you have questions, I can be your English-speaking contact person. I am available at email@example.com.
These winter and early springtime months can cause many of us to seek the warmth and shelter of indoors. In Berlin, we enjoy hanging out inside coffee shops, lingering over a warm cup of savory coffee or a fruit tea. For people visiting our city during this time of year, I suggest setting time aside in your tourist agenda for visiting a local coffee shop. Don’t worry, our shops know all the latest coffee-laced beverages served by the big chain shops, so you will find your favorite or discover a new one in a private coffeehouse.
Although I personally developed a taste for coffee first, I have friends who opened a teahouse in the US and stocked it with Japanese blends they sometimes had picked themselves. They introduced me to the wonders of tea drinking. And in Berlin, most privately owned coffee shops offer many types of teas – especially fruit-flavored ones. And the local Apotheken (pharmacies) include a section of herbal tea mixes which naturally treat a wide variety of winter ailments. If your nose is congested and you venture to the corner Apotheke, why not inquire about an herbal tea as well? It’s all part of our German culture.
During the Lenten season, which runs 40 days from Ash Wednesday on 26. February to Easter Sunday on 12. April 2020, I suggest finding indoor activities and installations to visit. The St. Matthäus Church, located in the Kulturforum area of museums at Matthäikirchplatz, 10785 Berlin-Tiergarten, is set up as a worship as well as an art space. Starting the evening of Ash Wednesday, an exhibition called “facies” (the face) opens. The legends of the image of Christ’s face captured on shrouds or facecloths are captured and interpreted from a future perspective by artist Milko Pavlov. In that same Kulturforum is located the Gemäldegalerie (Painting Gallery). It houses fine works by European artists from the 13th-18th centuries – in another warm and dry setting. Info about the offerings at the St. Matthäus Church can be found at www.stiftung-stmatthaeus.de/ and the Gemäldegalerie at www.smb.museum.
For a schedule of our Lenten services at the Melanchthon-Kirche and St. Jacobi-Kirche, please look at the center section of this BOTE newsletter. Features about special events are also found throughout the BOTE, so please look at the pictures to help you find what you are looking for. If you have questions or comments and prefer to communicate in English or your high school German, please consider me your friendly contact person for the Kreuzberg-Mitte congregation. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Advent Season in Kreuzberg
The time before Christmas in Berlin-Kreuzberg is particularly beautiful and filled with traditions from across Germany. While stores and shops hang decorations and sometimes set up Tannenbäume (Christmas fir trees), many people’s homes are filled with the scents of baking. I’ve had the opportunity to help bake Plätzchen (Christmas cookies) and watch an expert create her own Stollen. The aroma of nuts, fresh and dried fruits and spices seems to capture the essence and happy memories of past Christmas holidays.
One of the German traditions our church congregation is eager to maintain is the making of an Adventskranz (Advent wreath) for the home. In German, the word ‘basteln’ means to do handicrafts, such as creating and decorating this year’s Adventskranz. My mother was an expert in Basteln and decorating in general, but my talents are few, although I greatly appreciate the finished works.
The picture included here is a hand-carved wooden cross, one of the few decorations I brought to Berlin from the US. I purchased it from the carver at our Lutheran church’s Christmas bazaar. The American version is like its German counterpart, which is called the Advents-Basar. Our congregation’s Basar takes place on the first Advent Sunday, 1st December, in the Melanchthon-Kirche – after that day’s family worship service. Be sure to bring a few euros to buy some baked goods and a variety of homemade arts, crafts and decorations. They would make for perfect Christmas gifts and souvenirs of your visit.
And speaking of traditions, our annual New Year’s Concert (Neujahrskonzert) with the brass ensemble of the Jungen Ensemble Berlin takes place in St. Jacobi. The date is Sunday, 26th January 2020 at 11:30am.
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me in English or German at email@example.com. I hope you enjoy a wonderful and peaceful Advent season – and a blessed New Year.
Autumn/Fall: our busy season
Suddenly the weather changed in Berlin and the summer season changed over to Fall! I enjoyed the last several months spending as much time as possible outside. Prepared with Sonnencreme (SPF), I spent many a hot afternoon in the sun and shade trees of Berlin and Kreuzberg – entertaining friends and family who live here or visited Berlin for a day or two. Now that the weather has cooled and the Urlaube (holidays/vacations) are over, people have returned to their fall routines.
Across Germany, children, parents, and Kitas (daycares) are preparing for Martinstag on 11. November. Laternenumzügen (lantern parades) will take place everywhere with young children carrying decorated lanterns on sticks and following adults telling the story of St. Martin. St. Martin was the rich bishop who cared for a person who was cold and in desperate need. Martin is an example of living Christ’s command to love others as ourselves. As I’ve discovered, it is not only the Christian Kitas that celebrate Martinstag. The lanterns and children’s parades are popular with families of all religious backgrounds in Berlin.
As I wrote several months ago, our Kreuzberg-Mitte congregation holds its triennial church council election this year on Sunday, 3. November. Introductory messages from the candidates can be found in the October issue of the Bote (the Bote is posted online at kreuzberg-mitte.de). Voting will take place at both Melanchthon-Kirche and St. Jacobi-Kirche as follows:
Foyer of the Melanchthon-Kirche, Planufer 84, from 10am-2pm. (Before and after the Sunday worship service)
Gemeindesaal (community room) of the St. Jacobi-Kirche, Oranienstraße 132, from 2:30pm-5pm. A special vesper service takes place starting at 3pm in the church proper.
Results will be tallied, and winners announced at Jacobi-Kirche after voting concludes. Good Luck to all the candidates!
In the German Protestant Church, 31. October is Reformation Day in celebration of Martin Luther’s founding of the Evangelische Kirche. You may see Halloween decorations on the street or stores, but the Church in Germany has a longer tradition celebrating Reformationstag. Join us at Melanchthon-Kirche for a high worship service (Evangelische Messe) at 6pm. All Saints Day (Allerheiligen) takes place the next day. Please feel free to join us 6pm at Jacobi-Kirche that night for the Evangelische Messe.
If you have questions about our congregation, please contact me in English or German at firstname.lastname@example.org
As we wrote in the September edition of the Bote, our congregation has offered sanctuary through Kirchenasyl (church asylum) to a family from Iran. The Majid family fled Iran because of the persecution they endured as Christians in that society. I will include information later in this article on ways people can help support the family.
While this monthís article is not about me personally, I can at least share that I have some previous experience helping other people who had sought asylum. When I lived in Phoenix, Arizona in the US, my ELCA (Lutheran) church congregation organized itself into a team of people who welcomed and supported a family from Liberia. They had also fled their country, lived in Sierra Leone, and had been granted refugee status in the US. Consequently Iím familiar with how the American system works. And now that I live in Germany, almost ten years later and as a member of the Gemeindekirchenrat (church council), Iíve been learning once again the legal, social and cultural challenges that another Christian family and another ëforeigní country experience in welcoming and in acclimating to each other.
The four family members from Iran, Mahdie, Majid, Mahya und Mehdi, are now living in parts of the Jugendturm (youth tower) located behind our Melanchthonkirche through January 2020. And while the council made the decision to fund the family for its overall needs, we also welcome the financial support of church members and others through their donations in any amount. The banking information is:
Evangelische Kirchengemeinde in Kreuzberg-Mitte
IBAN: DE28 5206 0410 5203 9955 69 / BIC: GENODEF1EK1
Verwendungszweck (purpose): KIRCHENASYL
Mahdie and her family have been attending our Sunday worship services ñ and have been contributing home-baked treats to the coffee time that follows. I suggest meeting members of the Majid family at that time and hearing their stories. If you speak Persian, your language talent would be highly welcome as well. Our guests are learning German (language and customs) and hope to establish themselves here.
Please feel free to contact me in English or German if you would like more information about helping the Majidís.
What is an “Urlaub?”
If you come from the United States, as I do, or from another country where the laws and traditions concerning work are not like those in Germany and Europe, you may be baffled by the concept of the Urlaub. In the US, we take time away from work and call it either a vacation or a trip. British English tends to favor the term holiday. In general, all these terms mean similar things: a scheduled time away from work, employment, or school. However, it became clear to me when I moved from the US to Berlin five years ago that the German Urlaub and how it operates in German society were very unfamiliar concepts. What is the Urlaub in Germany? Most of the time, what people are referring to is that they are taking a form of Urlaub, which is technically called the Erholungsurlaub. Erholung means rest, recovery, recuperation. The major difference I find between the US and Germany in this regard is that there are almost no federal laws in the US regarding what this vacation time away from work entails. In contrast, there are many German laws that determine how the Urlaub functions, from pay to scheduling, length of time, and reasons for time away from work.
As you may have heard, many Europeans take time away from work during the summer. This can often last 4 weeks. Offices and businesses prepare in advance to shut down or reduce their operations so that most employees and management can take the same time away from work. The public schools coordinate their Urlaub time with this so that entire families can travel or have time together during the summer. Of course, as times have change, business needs have also changed, and more businesses remain open through the summer. This means that some employees take their Urlaub before or after many of their colleagues do. In addition, an Erholungsurlaub can be scheduled during any time of the year, such as during Advent season, with the agreement of the employee and the employer. As an American, I was accustomed to a different system where vacation time, especially in the corporate world, was minimal and was earned by how many hours were worked – and how many years a person had been employed. In fact, one of my previous jobs included scheduling and tracking bank employee’s work hours and hours of vacation time they “accrued.” The concept of accruing vacation time does exist in German businesses, but the focus of the laws is more centered on ensuring a fair system that recognizes the right of each employee and manager to take time away from work for that rest, recuperation and recovery. I know examples of people who might not have accrued enough paid time for their Urlaub, however, they were granted 4 weeks away from work while their pay was slightly reduced. In my opinion, this focus on the rights of the workers feels like a blessing. I would have much preferred managing giving the maximal number of employees’ time away from work – rather than mainly managing the dollars and cents of pay accrued. Here in this month’s Bote, please look at the information regarding this year’s elections for the church council (Gemeindekirchenrat). If you are living in the district of our Kreuzberg-Mitte congregation and paying the church tax (Kirchensteuer) to the Evangelische Kirche, you are likely able vote in the November election. I happen to be one of the people running for re-election to the council after having now served the last three years. A future Bote will include introductions from all the candidates – along with details on how to vote. In an upcoming English Corner, I will include the basics of how to participate in the voting. In addition, if you have questions about the election or about our congregation in general, please consider me your English-speaking contact person and send me an email. Take care!
VISITING DRESDEN THIS SUMMER
One of the cities here in the eastern part of Germany that gets overlooked by foreign visitors is Dresden. Dresden is an historical city with a population of about 500,000 and is located several hours south of Berlin by train in the state of Sachsen (Saxony). It is close to the Czech Republic and sits along the Elbe River. If you are visiting Germany this summer, it is worth the visit and I highly recommend taking at least a day for a tourist walk through to some of the main sights.
The city of Dresden reached its greatest power during the 18th century when King Augustus imported artisans from across Europe to build the beautiful Baroque buildings and squares that have been restored and maintained here today. Fans of the History Channel will recall the devastation that Dresden suffered during World War II. However, both the East German and later the unified German governments invested much time and treasure into restoring areas of the city to become examples of the Baroque period of art.
In the Old Town, the Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) is a Lutheran landmark built first in the 18th century. It was largely destroyed in the war and sat in ruins until after the German reunification. Starting in 1992, the buildings were reconstructed using as much of the original materials as still existed. The original building techniques were also employed, but the church has now been made into a building of 21st century standards ñ ready for its future use. www.frauenkirche-dresden.de
Back here in Berlin-Kreuzberg, the summer season is also a time for outdoor activities and family time. Consequently, our congregation has more central (single, morning) worships on Sundays and some of the weekly services and activities take a break for recharging.
This 2-month edition of the bote congregational newsletter includes special notes of what events and church services are available to congregants and visitors during the summer season. If you have questions or wish to contact our staff but feel your language skills are not the strongest, please consider me a contact person and email me in English or German. I will be in town and reading email throughout the summer. I would be glad to assist.
Spring and Summer Events
Soon after I began my theological studies in the US with the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) denomination, I heard that the ELCA had some connections to its sister church in Germany. Because I had studied German in high school and several years while at Eastern Michigan University, I felt that perhaps my language training had come full circle in order to help bring me to Germany. While I pursued a different course of studies at Luther Seminary outside of public ministry, I did come to Berlin and make it my new home.
One of my closest friends and colleagues at Luther Seminary was Grace Gravelle. In addition to being my neighbor on campus, Grace was an inspirational friend to many, many people. Her apartment seemed to be the meeting point for people from the seminary and around the world. If she had a coffee grinder and big espresso machine, I’m certain her apartment would have been busier than our large campus coffee shop!
Grace was also my first American visitor to my new Berlin apartment five years ago. While visiting, she met Pfr. Schmidt and many others in our congregation. I also had the chance to bring her to Wittenberg to visit the Lutherstadt – and although the weather was rainy and cold that day, she apparently appreciated the experience. Since then, she has graduated seminary and is an ELCA pastor in the US. And now in May and June, Grace has volunteered to return to Germany to lead one of those ministries shared by the German Evangelische Kirche and the ELCA: the WEM Wittenberg English Ministry.
For two weeks from 21. May to 4. June, Grace will serve as the pastor with the Wittenberg English Ministry. Each week, she will lead the four worship services conducted all in English at the Schlosskirche (Castle Church) and the Town Church or neighboring Chapel. Lutheran pastors from the US, Canada and Australia take turns rotating into this pastoral position in order to better serve the needs of foreign visitors to Wittenberg. Because travel to Wittenberg follows the seasons most of the time, the WEM begins each May and continues through Reformation Day, 31. October. I know that Grace is looking forward to this unique time in Wittenberg. I look forward to spending time with her before and after her two weeks in Wittenberg. Of course, more information about the WEM can be found on the web @ http://www.wittenbergenglishministry.com/
Back here in Beautiful Berlin, several major events take place in the Kreuzberg-Mitte congregation in June. They include the Pfingsfest (Pentecost Festival) and the Sommerfest am Vorabend des Johannistag (Summer Festival on the evening before John the Baptist’s Day). In addition, across Berlin on one night in June is the Lange Nacht der Religionen (Long Night of the Religions) where houses of worship across many faiths are open to visitors. Detailed info about these events are in this June edition of the Bote newsletter. If you have questions and prefer to write someone in English, please consider me your contact person. I can be reached at email@example.com.
Let’s Sing a Song
When I first arrived in Berlin five years ago to start an internship with this congregation, my German skills were atrophied and needed to strengthen and build up: first to the level I had years ago as a college student and then to continue improving far beyond that. I freely admit that in the beginning, I felt somewhat lost in Berlin. Fortunately, one area where I felt a familiar connection was with the music of the church.
The Lutheran Church denominations in the US are naturally related to the Evangelische Kirche Deutschland (EKD). However, they live in separate countries that use different languages. While studying for seminary classes with my American congregation, I was immersed in all aspects of our church, which included the choir. I enjoy singing and have periodically performed with a variety of church and private ensembles. As I learned more American Lutheran hymns throughout the year, the words and melodies became planted in my brain. And when I started attending Sunday worship services in Berlin, it was the melodies that I recognized.
As we worked our way through the seasons in the Evangelisches Gesangbuch (EG), I discovered I already knew several of the melodies. At Christmas, “Tochter Zion” and “Stille Nacht” had the same musical notes and general, recognizable meanings as their English counterparts. Another hymn, “Lobe den Herrn, meine Seele” had the same melody, but slightly different wordings than the “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” that I knew. And going back to the Reformer himself, Martin Luther, his “Ein Feste Burg ist unser Gott” was the source of the ever-popular “A Mighty Fortress is our God.”
If I did not have those familiar church hymns, I might have lost all hope for improving my German skills!
For the dates, times and locations of our weekly worship services and events during the month of May, please check the center section of this Bote newsletter. Later in the month, Thursday, May 30th, is Christi Himmelfahrt (Feast of the Ascension). I suggest looking in the newsletter to see what special service will be take place to celebrate this holiday. If you have any church or travel-related questions as a visitor, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Easter in Europe
I visited Europe for the first time during an Easter holiday break from school. I lived in Michigan in the US and had the opportunity to travel with the high school’s French Club on a guided tour that took us through portions of France, Switzerland, Italy and Monaco. As a teenager, I was excited to travel apart from my parents for the first time. I had also gotten to know the French language students with whom I would be traveling, and they took me under their wing. Our tour started with several days spent seeing the sights of the most popular area of French tourism: Paris.
As we adjusted to the time zone and exploring a European country for the first time, our Easter Sunday was spent in Paris. At that time, my family in the US attended a Presbyterian church and normally we would have attended the Easter Sunday morning service together. But since my intention was to have new experiences in new lands, I attended an Easter Mass in Paris at Notre Dame Cathedral.
One of our tour guides took us interested visitors to the mass. I recall her explaining that she did not feel comfortable walking into the church during worship, so she would meet us outside the building after it was over. Although I did not feel called to missionary work with our tour guide, I did ask if I could join her outside if I left early. Later during the service, I walked outside and met her. There we talked and smoked – getting to know each other a bit – as the music and singing played in the background. I was not a student of French, but rather German. However, we used English and improvised the rest in order to learn about each other’s country and the religions practiced there. It was a great way to engage with a ‘foreigner’ in a way few guided tours could provide.
In the Ev. Kirchengemeinde Kreuzberg-Mitte, we celebrate the Passionszeit (Lenten season) with at least two high points: Palmsonntag (Palm Sunday) and Ostersonntag (Easter Sunday). In addition, our congregation has worship services throughout Holy Week – including an Easter Vigil on the Saturday night before Easter Sunday. Details on all these services are in the center calendar section of the Bote newsletter. I highly encourage you, if you are in town on a tour, visiting family, or live in the area and are curious about Church to come to one of these services. Please consider me your ‘tour guide’ if you see me there. I would be happy to talk in English or German and help you feel welcome in God’s House.
Welcome Cards and Tickets
When I arrived in Berlin five years ago, I attended the Goethe Institut German Language School. As part of its preparation packet, the travel office recommended that students staying for the popular one-month courses plan to purchase a one-month BVG (Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe) ticket. With the BVG ticket, a person can travel the buses, subway and S-Bahn trains in and between the three main zones of the city unlimited – depending on which option he or she selects. It took me several days to acclimate and determine what kind of ticket to purchase. I decided to get the A-B ticket that covers all travel from the central city outward and nearly to Potsdam. BVG info in English is found at www.bvg.de/en.
Only after I moved to Berlin later that year did I discover the BWC (Berlin Welcome Card). This travel and discount card is available at the Hauptbahnhof, other major train stations and select tourist locations. Hotel staff can direct visitors where to purchase them or sometimes they sell them directly. The Welcome Card is great for people visiting our city for 2 to 6 days. With the card, in addition to the public transportation, purchasers receive discounts to local attractions and can book a city bus-tour. I recommend that people who make their own travel plans consider the Welcome Card. Find the English homepage at www.berlin-welcomecard.de/en.
As the church year quickly progresses, the month of March brings us to Ash Wednesday on March 6th. Please see the calendar and articles in this month’s Bote newsletter for worship service time and location. During the Lenten season, the Kreuzberg-Mitte congregation celebrates the traditional Sunday services such as Invocavit on March 10th, Reminiscere on March 17th, Okuli on March 24th and Lätare on March 31. German Lutheranism observes these Sundays like the Roman Catholic traditions: the Latin names are used, and each refers to that week’s opening Psalm verse for the service. If you attend one of these Sunday services with us, you will hear the psalm and an explanation of what part of Lent we are celebrating that day.
If you have questions or comments, please consider me your contact person and email me at email@example.com. I hope we meet soon!
While making plans in Berlin to return for an internship in the fall of 2014, one of the big challenges was to find a place to live. I thought that ideally, I could find an apartment near our Kreuzberg-Mitte congregation; however, no one expected that I would find a place that close to any of our three churches in this corner of popular Kreuzberg. But during a final outing for our language class, my instructor asked me about my fall plans. I confided my excitement along with my concerns about housing – where she then told me something surprising: She owned a small, renovated apartment on Dieffenbachstraße in Kreuzberg. Her tenant had given notice and she would soon start looking for a new renter. Would I be interested? I visited the apartment with her and agreed to rent it in the fall.
Within Kreuzberg, Dieffenbachstraße ran parallel to the street where our Melanchthonkirche is located. On a good day, I could walk to church in 5 minutes. The location was a fantastic find and it seemed to confirm that I was where I needed to be. As I served my internship, I furnished my apartment with an eclectic mix from the big Swedish retailer and the occasional used furniture marked ‘zum Verschenken’ on the sidewalks. After completing the 1-year training, I wanted to remain in the apartment and area. I had begun sitting afternoons at the outdoor café along my street. The locale served a mix of Eritrean dishes along with burgers, the Berlin staple. And as my ability to walk distances became handicapped by hip dysplasia, the café became my regular Stammtisch. Sitting on the usual bench seat, I got to know the people living in the surrounding buildings and watch their families grow and visitors come and go. I was willingly recruited into many discussions requiring lots of coffee. I also offered confidential, chaplain support to neighbors in need. People who were now becoming my friends.
When I could not drive myself to important appointments, my neighbors made standing offers to drive me. When I would need something from the local grocery, a passing neighbor would often offer to pick it up for me. And just yesterday, the local pharmacist volunteered to personally pick up my prescriptions and return with my meds.
I had moved into this Kreuzberg neighborhood 4 years ago heeding the call to serve strangers in Berlin. Then I discovered two dozen friends along my street who, when circumstances were reversed, began answering their own calls to serve their neighbor when he was otherwise alone and unable to always care for himself. This is our little community. Pull up a chair, and welcome to the neighborhood!
Memories of Brigitte Brückmann
I first began my adventure with this church congregation just over four years ago. I had been invited to return to Berlin after graduating from Luther Seminary in the US and completing a Goethe Institut German language course in this city. Shortly after I arrived in the fall to start a year of internship with the pastor of the congregation, I had a chance to attend a Sunday worship service at St. Simeon-Kirche on Wassertorstraße. I recall seeing Brigitte’s husband Peter near the entrance as people gathered to greet each other after the long summer holiday period. He was welcoming several people and sending them up the winding staircase to the sanctuary. I slowly followed the crowd going up.
As I arrived outside the sanctuary doors, I noticed a woman giving directions and then stepping into a storage area to retrieve some items. In addition to being a busy helper for the morning’s service, it was already clear that Brigitte Brückmann was also a person of authority and knowledge. She knew ‘who needed what’ and all the tasks that each person was responsible for. As a stranger in a strange church (and land), I determined that Frau Brückmann would be a valuable resource for me.
I later learned from others some of Brigitte’s history with the St. Simeon congregation. She had been a member since she was confirmed; later she led the church council for decades.
As a member of the church council elected two years ago, I became a colleague of Brigitte. During tense discussions about the continuing fusion of our three former congregations – and about the future of the St. Simeon-Kirche itself - Brigitte Brückmann would strongly advocate for preserving some of the traditions of the church as well as advocate new ways that would preserve the St. Simeon-Kirche and allow people to still worship there. Looking back on the last four years, I have come to respect and value Brigitte – her great faith in Jesus Christ as well as her great determination that the Evangelische Kirche would continue to have a presence in the neighborhood. Her work bringing in and welcoming the Refugee Church (Flüchtlingskirche) to the St. Simeon-Kirche during the Syrian refugee crisis has brought hope, direction and support to thousands of refugees who have made Germany their new home.
As the faces, languages, and traditions around Kreuzberg continue to develop and change over time, Brigitte Brückmann knew that people still needed and craved access to God, Jesus and to each other through the focal point of the Simeon church. May we all be a blessing to our neighbors as Jesus taught us and as Brigitte lived her life in service for others.
Greg Gillum (firstname.lastname@example.org)
DOWN THE STREET: CHECKPOINT CHARLIE AND THE WALL MUSEUM
As a high school student in the US until the early 1980’s, I studied the German language, which included a fair amount of reading and discussing of German and European history. Years earlier, I had a teacher from West Germany who introduced his young students to the German culture through music, songs and years’ worth of projector slides. During both sets of experiences, the history and unique situation of Berlin opened our eyes and minds to World War II and the ensuing Cold War. As we students eventually learned, if any single location could be the focal point of these eras, it was the city of Berlin.
Berlin was the capital of the Nazi Third Reich and, after the partition of Germany by the Allied Powers, so too was the old capital city divided into 4 sectors of control. And when the Soviets moved to stem the flow of people and trade out of their eastern sector, their military erected the Berlin Wall to then divide East and West Berlins. One of the locations where people and traffic could cross this border was Checkpoint Charlie.
The checkpoint was located between the US and the Soviet sectors and became recognized as a unique location where East met West – both figuratively and literally. Soon after the Wall was built, a building located just on the American side and next to Checkpoint Charlie became the site of the Wall Museum. The German founder of the museum wanted a museum “to be as close as possible to the injustice itself, where human greatness fully unfolds.” The Wall Museum not only became home to displays of escape vehicles, documents and photographs, but also a headquarters where plans were developed to help more refugees out of Soviet-controlled East Germany.
I share all this information because I highly recommend that visitors to Berlin take the opportunity to visit the Wall Museum and Checkpoint Charlie. The museum is open 365 days a year from 9am – 10pm at Friedrichstraße 43-45. Information and tickets are available online at www.mauermuseum.de/en/index.html Visitors to our congregation’s Jacobi-Kirche at 132-134 Oranienstraße are just a half kilometer east of the checkpoint and can either walk or take the buses across from the church directly there.
Speaking of our congregation, please be sure to look at the center section of this October edition of the Bote newsletter for a schedule of worship services, including events celebrating the October 31 anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Other special events such as concerts – plus regularly scheduled parish activities – are prominently featured in the Bote. But if your command of English is better than your German, please feel free to email me with any questions at email@example.com
One of Berlin‘s top landmarks: the Marienkirche
Welcome back to the English Corner of the Kreuzberg-Mitte congregation. If you are planning to or currently visiting Berlin this month, I would suggest including the Marienkirche in your sightseeing.
Located at the western end of Alexanderplatz in the old center of East Berlin, the Marienkirche (St. Mary’s Church) is part of the Evangelische Kirche (Protestant Church) of Berlin. The first church on the site was built in the years after the city was established in 1230. The Marienkirche is linked with the nearby Nikolaikirche, which was the Franciscan cloister and hospital that served the early city.
Skipping ahead to the 20th century, the Marienkirche was heavily damaged by Allied bombing during the Second World War and was restored relatively shortly afterward. It is located next to the Fernsehturm (Television Tower) built during the time of the East German regime. The church is now the only remnant of what remains of the old city core.
Among the many pieces of art from the Middle Ages, one of the oldest is the fresco called the Totentanz (Dance of Death). It was created in 1484 – a particularly harsh year when the plague killed many Berliners. The fresco is now behind glass and located inside the main entrance vestibule area. This year, there is construction around the main entrance and a side door is used in the meantime. I highly recommend walking near the raised dias to view the painted altarpiece and the spectacular white marble Kanzel (pulpit).
The Marienkirche is open to the general public in September until December every day from 10am – 6pm. It is an active church building and services take place on Sunday and throughout the week. I suggest checking their website at www.marienkirche-berlin.de.
Here in the Kreuzberg-Mitte congregation in September, in addition to our Sunday and other weekly services (listed in the middle of the Bote newsletter), the congregation and the public are also invited to the Jugendgebet (Youth Prayer) on September 30. Please see elsewhere in the Bote for details. In addition, I am giving a pre-notice that in October, several of our youth will be presenting a talk about their summer youth group experiences in Norway. Please check back in October for details!
May the Lord bless you and keep you in your comings and goings.
Greg Gillum (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Take a Day Trip and Visit Wittenberg!
Welcome back to the English Corner! Here in Berlin, we are moving from spring to summer and the weather has been getting quite warm. When visitors to Germany stay with me or plan a visit around the capital, I usually recommend they take a day trip and visit Wittenberg. For most people of the Lutheran faiths, the name Wittenberg is synonymous with the famous reformer of western Christian faith, Martin Luther. However, many people have not heard of the city / and while they have an interest in religion they may know relatively little about where the Reformation started or why.
For a crash course, here are the basics: The Reformation refers to the movement within the Roman Catholic Church that took place from 1517 to 1648 that in the end brought about the splitting apart and formation of new Christian (Protestant) denominations. Martin Luther was an Augustinian monk and university teacher who began to openly question the Church’s theology and its frequent sales of indulgences in order to finance the Vatican hierarchy in Rome. As part of his protest, Luther wrote letters, disputations and his famous 95 Theses to bring change within the Church. Over time, his life was threatened, he went into hiding, and there he translated the Old and New Testaments into a standardized German language, making it accessible to all people. Luther lived in Wittenberg during and after these events and the small city has become home to various memorials and museums connected with his life and work.
From Berlin’s Südkreuz train station, regional trains depart directly to “Wittenberg/Lutherstadt” and arrive about one hour later. Wittenberg is located south of Berlin and just over the border of Brandenburg in the state of Sachsen-Anhalt. Wittenberg has been a university town since the Middle Ages and is now home to a training seminary and research center for the Evangelische Kirche (Protestant Church). The train station is small, but is serviced by taxis, although you can also walk into town along the well-developed pedestrian path.
When guiding people or giving them suggestions when they travel to Wittenberg, I make three sightseeing recommendations: the Schlosskirche, the Asisi-Panorama, and the Lutherhaus.
The Schlosskirche was built in 1506 and is now famous as the site where Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door for the priests and townspeople to read and debate. Church services take place on Sunday mornings and the building is open to visitors throughout the week.
The Asisi-Panorama is a new exhibition that features a massive and dramatic 360 view of the bustling city of Wittenberg during the time of Luther. Both guided and self-guided tours are available.
Martin Luther and his wife Katharina von Bora lived in what had previously served as an Augustinian cloister. The multi-story building is now home to the largest museum in the world dedicated to the Reformation. It is also open throughout the week, with hours depending on the time of year.
For English or German-speaking visitors, I recommend one website for more information when planning your trip: lutherstadt-wittenberg.de. You can select either language and then view the same information and functions.
Back home in Berlin in the Kreuzberg-Mitte congregation, the month of July brings the celebrations of Thomas the Apostle on 3. July and James the Apostle on the 25. of the month. Many members of our congregation are now relaxing after having enjoyed a retreat together at the Youth and Encounter Centers in the town of Hirschluch in Brandenburg. Please look in this month’s Bote newsletter for great pictures and stories from their trip.
If you have questions concerning our congregation and prefer to communicate in English (or wish to try out your rusty German skills), please consider me your contact person. I will answer you either directly or forward your information to the appropriate person. Please contact me at email@example.com. I look forward to hearing from you!
Hello and welcome back to the English Corner! This month, I would like to introduce you to a famous German landmark, the Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral). When friends come to Berlin, one of the first things they often mention wanting to see is the Dom - and why not? It is an impressive and imposing church which, since its last reconstruction, now rivals the Renaissance and baroque styles of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
The Berliner Dom was first built on the island in the Spree River to serve the Hohenzollern dynasty, which had built a city castle there. The church was rebuilt several times over the centuries and, during the time of the last Prussian kings, took on its current form to became one of the most recognized Protestant churches in the world.
Nowadays, the Dom retains its original purpose as a parish church and worship services take place throughout the week. In addition, the Berliner Dom hosts a variety of regularly scheduled music performances as well as special concerts through the year. However, to experience the majesty of the building, most visitors take one of the museum-type tours, which I highly recommend along with the large gift shop. During the warmer months, cafes open up around the area and tourists flock here to the Museuminsel (Museum Island) to visit the many famous museums located here. More information is available in English at www.visitberlin.de/en/berlin-cathedral and in German at www.berlinerdom.de
In our Kreuzberg-Mitte congregation in June, we will be celebrating several church holidays, including Tag der Geburt Johannes des Täufers (Birth of John the Baptist) on 24. June and Tag der Apostel Petrus und Paulus (Apostles Peter and Paul) on 29. June. Please see the center section of the June Bote newsletter for our worship services and times.
If you have any questions or comments concerning our congregation and prefer to communicate in English, please consider me your contact person. I will answer you directly or forward your information to the appropriate person. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Let’s talk soon!
Welcome back to the English Corner! I am your contact person and springtime tour guide, Greg Gillum. Well actually, I am not a tour guide; however I would like to recommend a church-related tour organizer for those interested in seeing important and lesser-known churches, memorials and previously unknown treasures of Berlin. CROSS ROADS is a city tour service for individuals and groups who desire walking, bicycle and bus trips through the many various church-related locations in and around the city.
CROSS ROADS offers prescheduled guided tours of different areas or unique themes throughout the year. In addition, they organize accommodations, tour transportation and special access for groups wanting to plan and see specific aspects or locations in Berlin. The organization offers day and weekend programs with professional guides who speak English and German. Other languages are also available. Cross Roads is a project of our Kirchenkreis (church district) and more information is available at crossroads-berlin.com.
Here in the Kreuzberg-Mitte congregation, we are looking forward to celebrating two church holidays this month: Christi Himmelfahrt (Ascension Day) on Thursday, 10. May and Pfingsten (Pentecost) on Sunday, 20. May. Please see the center section of the Bote newsletter for times and locations. We also anticipate the one-year anniversary of our burgeoning Pfadfindertruppe (Scouting troop) and their festivities at Jacobi Kirche on Saturday, 5. May. Copies of the Bote are available in front of the three Kreuzberg-Mitte churches - as well as our online homepage.
If you have any questions or comments concerning our congregation and prefer to communicate in English (or wish to try out your German skills), please consider me your contact person. I will answer you directly or forward your information to the appropriate person. I can be reached at email@example.com. I look forward to meeting you soon!
Hello and welcome to the Evangelische Kirchengemeinde in Kreuzberg-Mitte (Protestant Church congregation of Kreuzberg-Mitte) in Berlin!
This message is written in English for our many visitors who discover or read online about our congregation‘s three churches in Berlin, but who do not speak German very well - or at all. My name is Greg Gillum and I am an American who has lived in Berlin the last four years. I am a member of the Kreuzberg-Mitte congregation and a member of our church council.
People from around the world visit Berlin and discover our two historic red-brick churches, St. Jacobi-Kirche at Oranienstraße 133 and St. Simeon-Kirche at Wassertorstraße 21a - and our 1950‘s style church building, the Melanchthon-Kirche at Planufer 84. Yes, we are blessed with three full-size church buildings thanks to our decision to fuse our predecessor congregations several years ago.
In the middle fold of the monthly newsletter, the Bote, you will find a listing of our weekly and special worship services, including locations and times. We are especially pleased to host Germany‘s first Flüchtlingskirche (Refugee Church) located in the front of the St. Simeon-Kirche, which was established to serve the waves of new asylum-seekers from the Syrian and Middle-Eastern refugee crisis.
Please consider me your contact person for any questions or requests you may have about the Kreuzberg-Mitte church congregation. While I can often be found in person at various services throughout the month, feel free to contact me anytime via email. We can converse in English (or any level of German) to assist you. The current and recent Bote issues are also available on our homepage I look forward to meeting you in person or online.