Chapel of Reconciliation, Berlin
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Let's live in harmony with Gaia 
Chapel of Reconciliation, Berlin
An article, published in AMC Aspects magazine, January 2001 
By 
arch. Nadejda Tchenguelieva
Arch. Kalina Erska
nadeto@iname.com
THE HISTORY

The story of the church is quite curious and fairy tale-like. In 1885 the former Church of Reconciliation was built on Bernauer Strasse and it represented for many years a temple of faith for the inhabitants of this quarter close to the center of Berlin. It kept its spiritual function till 1961 when the city was torn in two by the erection of the Wall, that divided Berlin into Eastern and Western part. The church turned out to be literally the only building left undemoluted in the nobody's "dead" zone, between the two "new" towns. From that moment on, its profile dominating over the border fortifications no longer represented a symbol of reconciliation but on the contrary- of the impossibility for one. But in a period of time when fear and its manipulation are the main instruments of power, symbols' vitality somehow threatens this power's foundations. The official reason to demolish the church in 1985 was that it discredited the security of the border fortifications, being an obstacle to the direct view between two of the watch-towers. The National Security Service of the former GDR "removed objective ¹7" and ensured the requirements for better visibility.

The sight of the collapsing bell- tower of the Church of Reconciliation was broadcasted throughout the world. The Federal Chancellor Helmut Kohl expressed his opinion on the case: "This is a symbolic act. The destruction of the church shows us how long, difficult and unsure is the way ahead of us to overcome the division of Europe and Germany. "

The demolition of the church was foremost a demonstration of the physical power of the GDR authorities. The members of the Parish were made to feel minor and helpless, they were reminded once again of their powerlessness. But their will and their spirits’ strength compensated their physical helplessness. They had nothing but the alternative of the symbolic act. Their strike back was an artistic improvisation "Dance on the Wall" – that was how The Parish of Reconciliation bade their farewell to the remains of their church. In that way they expressed their belief that "symbols possess a silent power, that is capable of making even the impossible possible".

A few years later, in 1989, after the official demolition of the Berlin wall it was still early for a historical analysis but one thing was for sure: In 20th century mankind still tried to wipe out its symbols. And the more it made attempts not to leave signs from its past, the more the scars were visible and the shame was pulsing. After the Wall was brought down Europe continued its progress and development, East and West made joined efforts to look in one direction... What does reconciliation mean nowadays? 
The remains of the church were discovered piece by piece- the altar, the bells, the statue of Jesus Christ, the cross distorted in shape after the bell- tower's falling… Even the foundations of the former church were found. The Parish was given back the right of possessing their ground. But another question appeared: How should this ground be used in the next millennium, what should be the most adequate form and content of its nature. The members of the Parish were well aware of the value of this ground- on Bernauer Strasse, on the former "dead” strip, over the foundations of the demolished Church of Reconciliation, nearby the newly established memorial "Berlin wall". With all of these existing conditions in mind the Parish defined its simple mission: that the bells and the altar be brought back to life by putting them on their former locations. And there was hardly better time and place for building a new Chapel of Reconciliation- as a sign of gratitude for both Berlin's and Germany's reunion. 

THE  DESIGN

The design by the architects Rudolf Rietermann and Peter Sassenrot creates a chapel appropriate for an urban setting, constructing at the same time an interior space for church services.

The Chapel of Reconciliation is constructed from pounded- clay walls 60 centimeters thick. This material was chosen because clay and clay mixtures can satisfy both ecological and construction concerns in an almost ideal way. Last but not least is the wish of the Parish that the Chapel is to acquire a more ascetic, down- to- earth look, with nothing in common with the previous wall- supporting structures, erecting there. In brief, the idea of the new building is to contrast the Wall, both in terms of structure and sense. Its mission is to unite not to divide, to attract not to reject.

Pounded clay has been used throughout the world as a building material for thousands of years. It is regarded as the most solid, structurally stable and durable way to build with clay. Most of all, the mood and temper of these buildings from inside and outside, are second to none.

There is yet a third symbolic aspect of this choice- the clay mixture needs additional hard particles. This allows the remains of the old church walls to serve for that purpose, cracked to little pieces. In this way, they actively exist, not only they are preserved, but their functioning is restored.

An open-work structure extends over the solid clay centre, surrounding it as a covered walk with a view to the environment. This space forms a transition and a threshold between the outside ambiance and the religious interior. The external framework, including the roof, is constructed from wood - also a natural and ecological material. The wooden columns, staves and beams form a light translucent cover, contrasting to the massive clay walls of the interior. From the outside the chapel looks as if framed with fixed vertical blinds, that cast picturesque shadows in the intermediate space.

In the same manner the old church bells are exposed. They are stored in a separate light wooden structure, similar to that of the Chapel. They are located on the exact place where the entrance of the old church was.

The new axis in the plan of the Chapel is the one pointing East, that in the old church plan has been neglected, not considering with the religious cannon /the building that existed there was oriented at right angle to the street/. The East aligned axis displaces the centre point of the circular plan and underlines the newly emerged chancel with the altar table and the oval curve behind it. In this manner in the Chapel the memory of the old church and the new spirit live together. In a “window” in the floor are exposed the foundations of the demolished Church of Reconciliation. With silent esteem and humble respect parts of the historical church foundations are made visible.

The interior of the chapel is reduced to the minimum of indispensable elements, which serve for contemplation, seclusion, worship and the communal observation of church services. The altar, saved from the old church, is erected back on its former location. It is pushed into an alcove outside the oval and retains the alignment of the old church /that is at right angle to the street/.

The Chapel of Reconciliation does not impress, does not shine or attract from a distance. Its simple forms, built of ecologically clean materials, radiate with natural beauty and dignity. In the interior there is nothing obtrusive and particular for its own sake. On the contrary, the feeling inside is one of ultimate comfort, like in a safe asylum. Like the sun rays coming through the window in the ceiling, the mood of the believer or the casual visitor is one of peace and serenity, of light and hope for good.



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