German Treasures – Discoveries of Untour Travelers
The middle-Rhine village of Oberwesel (6 minutes south via train from the Idyll village of St. Goar or 6 minutes north from the Idyll village of Bacharach) has a picturesque Catholic church – the Church of Our Lady. It is massive and overpowering from the outside and perhaps it will be just like any other church on the inside.
However, upon entering the side door you are introduced to a beautiful worship area accented by stained glass windows, an elevated ambo, mosaics, a vaulted ceiling; and behind closed gates directly behind the central altar, we can dimly see an inner chapel and altar. Several parishioners are cleaning the central altar area while a couple of men are busy trying to silence a squeaky iron gate leading to a side chapel.
As we approach the gate to the inner chapel, a parishioner nods in our direction and proceeds to open the gate, turn on the lights, and motion for us to go inside.
What a sight! There, placed behind the inner altar is a gold tritych with 56 gold figures carved on it - dating from 1322. A magnificent work of art!
Unfortunately, our poor German language skills prevents us from finding out more about this amazing triptych from the parishioners. We must leave it to others who are more skilled in these matters to bring additional information to future Untourists about this church and its treasures. However, don’t let this church drift by the train window as just another church seen in a fleeting moment. Get off the train and step into this German treasure!
Berlin brought us a couple of other treasures linked by a common bond – a World War II Allied bombing raid on November 22, 1943. Those bombs fell on two religious buildings, separated by faith, use, and distance. The uniting of Berlin and Germany brings these two worship spaces closer together again for the Berlin vistor.
One is the famous Emperor Whilhelm Memorial Church, located on one of Berlin’s busiest tourist thoroughfares, a short distance from the Zoo train station. Most everyone has seen pictures of this bombed out church – its dark sooty remains surrounded by modern buildings. The church is now a memorial to peace. Inside the restored section of the church tower rest artifacts from the instant the bombs hit. But there is also an artifact from long after the bombs had stopped falling on Berlin. Next to the statue of Christ, from the original altar of the church, rests a small cross of nails. The cross was brought from Coventry, England, to its present site in 1987. The nails come from the Coventry Cathedral’s roof beams, which were consumed by fire when the church was destroyed during a German bombing attack on November 14, 1940.
A cross of nails has become a symbol of the efforts at reconciliation by that Coventry church – as other crosses made from the same materials have been presented in Dresden, East Berlin, and Stalingrad.
The other treasure stands in the Jewish section of Berlin. It is the partially reconstructed “New Synagogue” housing the “Centrum Judaicum Memorial Museum.”
The Original Synagogue
The original Synagogue was opened in 1866 and held 3,200 people (men on the main floor – women in the balcony). It was the largest Synagogue in Germany and was last used for religious purposes in 1940. The Synagogue was also destroyed during that same November 22, 1943 Allied bombing raid on Berlin.
However, it was to be many decades before a memorial could be even considered, let alone constructed, from the remains of the building. The Synagogue ruins lay in East Berlin. Few of the 165,000 Jews who once inhabited this area of Berlin were alive. No one would or could prevent the East Germans from knocking over the remaining walls.
After the infamous Berlin Wall came down and the reunification of Germany was begun, the entrance tower of the original Synagogue was rebuilt using as much of the original building materials as could be found.
The Reconstructed Tower of the Synagogue
It has become a memorial and museum to the Jewish community and its leaders who were so much a part of Germany and Berlin before World War II.
A visit here is begun by a search more thorough than any airport security system. Those who cause the Jews to also suffer in this century are still a presence in the community. Armed guards patrol the grounds. Once inside you are provided a revealing history of the Jewish community in Berlin through words, pictures, and artifacts. A history that you will not soon forget.
Thus, a Christian church and a Jewish Synagogue have become treasures of reconciliation in Berlin. Don’t miss the opportunity to contrast and compare these two religious sites.