Garrison Church, Potsdam: Kevin Kennedy Highlights a Controversial Project to Rebuild a One-Time Prussian 'National Monument'

Article excerpt

ON APRIL 14TH, 2005, THE CORNERSTONE will be laid for the reconstruction of the Garrison Church (Garnisonskirche) in Potsdam. An embodiment of 'Prussian values', the church still fuels debate over the Prussian legacy. Here, on March 21st, 1933, 'Potsdam Day', Adolf Hitler reconvened the new parliament, the 'Reichstag', after the notorious Reichstag fire the previous month: by shaking Reich President Hindenburg's hand, Hitler wanted to show he would respect Prussian values. Today the attitude one takes to the proposed reconstruction of the church reflects one's attitude toward Prussia, a subject that still evokes powerful emotions. Those who support this project tend to be conservatives; those who view it with a more critical eye tend to stand further left on the political spectrum. As is so often the case, many involved in this discussion project their own political values onto the past, and historical reality becomes blurred as emotions take over the debate.

Frederick William I, the 'Soldier King' had the church constructed in 1736 as the church for his court and his beloved 'blue children'--the troops stationed in the chief Prussian garrison at Potsdam. The Garrison church also served as a 'simultaneous' house of worship for both Lutherans and Calvinists, promoting understanding among these mutually hostile confessions. Viewed in this respect, the church was a monument to the Prussian policy of religious tolerance, one of the more remarkable aspects of this Baroque territorial state. Frederick William was buried in the church, as was his son, the more famous Frederick II, 'the Great'. With its enormous tower (88 metres high) and famous Amsterdam Glockenspiel, or carillon (forty bells), the church could once be seen and heard by every Potsdamer. During the course of the nineteenth century, the church became more of a military temple than a house of God. The preachers increasingly used their sermons to inculcate absolute obedience to political authority. No other church better exemplified the 'union of throne and altar' in Prussia, where the king was also the supreme head of the Protestant faith.

After the end of the monarchy and the founding of Germany's first democracy in 1918-19, the Garrison Church became a bastion of reactionary opposition to the Weimar Republic. This was one of the reasons that the Nazis chose to hold 'Potsdam Day' there in March 1933. Hitler's handshake with Hindenburg, captured in a photograph shown around the world, marked the symbolic union of Prussian tradition and National Socialism. Nevertheless, some twenty of the men involved in the plot to kill Hitler with a bomb on July 20th, 1944, were Prussian officers who belonged to the Garrison Church congregation. The leader of the conspiracy was Major General Henning von Treschkow, who lived in a house right next to the church.

The main hall of the church was destroyed in 1945, but the bell tower survived and was used for small religious ceremonies. …