Garrison Church (Potsdam)

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File:Potsdam Garnisonskirche um 1900.jpg
Garrison Church Potsdam, 1900

The Garrison Church (full name: Court and Garrison Church Potsdam, German: Hof- und Garnisonkirche Potsdam was a Protestant Baroque church in Potsdam and, until 1918, Parish church of the Prussian royal family. The architect Philipp Gerlach was commissioned by king Friedrich Wilhelm I. to build the church for members of the court and for the soldiers garrisoned in Potsdam. It was consecrated on August 17, 1732 and was soon well-attended by both the civilian and military communities. Friedrich Wilhelm I was buried at his request in the crypt of the church in 1740. In 1786 his son, Frederick the Great, was buried there also, but against his will.

History can hardly happen in a more compact form than here: Both Czar Alexander I and Napoleon visited Frederick II's grave. It was here that the first freely-elected Potsdam City Parliament met and the Lutheran and Reformed Churches celebrated their union. The Nazis used the church for their Day of Potsdam, and many members of the 20th July conspiracy and their families worshiped there.

The nave and bell tower were destroyed by fire during a brutal air raid on April 14, 1945. Only the outside walls remained standing. In 1950 the Holy Cross Chapel was built within the cruciform walls of the bell tower. A new congregation met there for services until on a summer Sunday in 1968, the GDR head of state Walter Ulbricht and his Communist Party ignored widespread protests and ordered the remaining walls left standing to be torn down. In its place, in 1971 a Computing Center was built. The remaining empty space continues to demand an important community effort to rectify.

The Garnisonkirche is a monument of national importance; a place of learning, a workshop for the advancement of freedom an reconciliation and today should be a city symbol. Since 2004 it belongs to the International Community of the Cross of Nails (founded in Dresden, Germany in February 1991).

In 2004 a group of highly motivated citizens formed the Promotion Committee for the Reconstruction of the Garrison Church, a non-profit organization. In June 2008 followed the Garnisonkirche Potsdam foundation. Both organizations work together for the reconstruction of the Garrison church Potsdam not only as a parish church for its citizens but also as a reminder that future German-European cooperation is possible and essential. In 2013 the German National Committee for Cultural an Media Affairs named the Garrison church Potsdam an important cultural monument and offered 12 million Euro towards the funding of its reconstruction.


Bell tower

The bell tower of the Garnisonkirche, a dominating structure, measured 88,4 meters and reached well into the street in front of it. Its side walls were interrupted by tall, narrow windows, while sculptures flanked the corners. A panel with gold lettering mounted above the main entrance facing "Broad Street" (Breiten Straße) read, "Friderich Wilhelm, King of Prussia, had this tower built next to the Garnisonkirchein to the honor of God. Anno 1735". Some of the letters may still be seen today.

The foundation of the bell tower was solidly built and tapered to the upper stories. The top story, built of oak, had lanterns and a copper-covered roof crowned with a weather vane. A Carillon, inherited from the first Garrison church consecrated in 1722, was augmented with five new bass tone bells produced by Paul Meurer. Choral music was played on the hour, alternating with secular music played on the half-hour until the end of the 18th century. From 1797 until 1945 the musical order was changed to Bach's "Lobe den Herrn" (Praise the lord, oh my soul) and "Üb immer Treu und Redlichkeit" from Ludwig Hölty, a theme Mozart composed for Papageno's aria in the The Magic Flute. In between short melodies, some played upon request, rang out over the city every 7,5 minutes.


The nave was square built. Its cross axis was connected to the bell tower on the north side. A step hip roof, 17 meters high, had two dormer windows built into all but the south side of the roof. Tall round-arched windows dominated the façade which had decorative central portals on all three sides. Entrances on both sides of the tower led to a high balustrade from which it was possible to enter onto a roof walkway. Columned pillars flanked both sides of the main doors which, together with the tower itself, formed an imposing entrance from Broad Street.


The interior of the Garnison Church was clearly defined. Massive columns connected with solid basket arches supported a flat roof and a two-storied emporium. The interior, at first largely without ornamentation, had simple wood paneling, and, while the civilian congregation sat on benches in the knave, the soldiers sat above in the gallery. A wooden pulpit stood on the south side of the nave.

In 1735 Friedrich Willhelm I had the ground floor crypt built under a new and colorful barock style high altar with pulpit designed by Christian Friedrich Feldmann and constructed by Johann Christian Angermann and Johann Konrad Koch. The sculptor, Johann Georg Glume created marble figures of “Mars” and “Bellona” which flanked the entrance to the crypt below. Holy Communion was served from the original wooden pulpit, now called the Field Altar.

Wagner organ

The Garrison Church organ, which included a carillon, was built by the organ builder Joachim Wagner in 1731-32 and had 25 registers on 3 manuals with pedals. These were later increased to 42 registers by his colleague Carl Ludwig Gesell in 1862. The organ was further modernized by Wilhelm Sauer during extensive interior renovations carried out from 1897-1899. He re-used approximately half of the original historical organ pipes for the new late-romantic style organ, increased the number of registers to 46 and changed the mechanics to a pneumatic action system. The organ was unusually placed and stood over the Chancel on the second balcony. It had an imposing casing with richly carved ornamentation and sculptural details thought to be designed by the artist Johann Georg Glume (1679-1765). The prospect, or organ pipes, were arranged in three towers, each with six groups of pipes, the longest of which was 5 meters. Some of the pedal registers were housed in the middle tower for lack of space. Remarkable but suitable for a military church, the organ had chimes imitating trombones and kettledrums mounted on angels. A circling sun and a wing-beating eagle completed the decor. Thanks to a generous donation from the mail order house founder, Werner Otto, it has been possible to rebuild the Wagner organ based on existing documents.


First building

From 1720 to 1722 the first Potsdam Garrison Church was a square half-timbered building built on the same spot as the later version we know of today. It had a steep pavilion roof and a two story tower which housed a 35 tone carillon built by the Amsterdam organ builder Jan Albert de Grave. Soldiers, most of whom were members of the royal regiment “Potsdam Giants”, made up the congregation and regularly attended German Reformed Church services there.

Second building, Garrison Church

After only a few years cracks appeared in the walls, and the building began to tilt due to the marshy land beneath and insufficient foundations. In 1730 the carillon had to be removed and the church and tower were torn down. Since King Friedrich Wilhelm I was interested in the well-being of his soldiers and wanted them instructed in church customs, he commissioned the architect Philipp Gerlach to plan a new church. Construction began in 1731, and on August 17, 1732 the church was consecrated by the court chaplain, Christian Johann Cochius, and the military chaplain, Johann Gottfried Hornejus. As with almost all the churches he commissioned in Potsdam and Berlin, the King wanted the Garrison Church to have a high, imposing and solidly-built tower as proof of his firm belief in God. In 1730 and again in 1734 he had experienced the collapse of the nearly- completed tower of the Petri Church in Berlin. So it was with great gratitude that he was able to climb the 365 steps to the top of the Garrison Church bell tower in August 1735 soon after recovering from severe illness.

Dedication until the Weimar Republic

In 1735 Friedrich Wilhelm I ordered a crypt to be built under the main altar of the Garrison Church. Five years later he was buried there a day after his death on May 31, 1740. His successor Friedrich II (Frederick the Great) invited Johann Sebastian Bach to visit Potsdam. Bach played the organ at the Garrison Church and declared it to be a “very fine work”. Sophie Dorothea, wife of Friedrich Wilhelm I, who died on June 28, 1757, decreed in her testament that she wished to be buried in the Hohenzollern Crypt of the Berlin Cathedral so that her space in the Garrison Church remained free. Her son Friedrich II also did not designate it as his burial place, preferring instead to be interred on the terrace in front of Sans Soucis Castle in Potsdam. Contrary to his wish he was buried alongside his father on the day of his death, August 18, 1786. His funeral ceremony, however, took place later on September 9, 1786. At the request of Queen Luise in 1797, the choral “Lobe den Herrn” (Praise the Lord, oh my soul) was played on the carillon each hour, followed on the half- hour by “Üb immer Treu und Redlichkeit” (using the aria melody Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen from Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute). Previously the pieces were simply alternated as was the custom in Holland. In November 1805 the Russian Czar Alexander I was invited by King Friedrich Wilhelm III and Queen Luise to meet in the royal crypt to celebrate the consolidation of their alliance against Napoléon. On October 25, 1806 after his victory over the Prussian army at Jena and Auerstedt, Napoléon marched to Berlin and Potsdam and requested to visit Friedrich II’s private apartment in the Berlin City Palace and the royal crypt in the Garrison Church. His comment that he would probably not have been there had Friedrich II still been alive most likely was not said at the crypt as is so often stated, but, out of respect for Friedrich II, Napoléon placed the Garrison Church under his personal protection, while he appropriated both the Französiche (French) Church and the Holy Ghost Church to stable his cavalry.

Another reason why the Garrison Church played such an important role in the history of Potsdam was because the first freely elected Potsdam Magistrate was inaugurated there on August 3, 1809.

In 1816 in order to make room for flags at the victory celebration of the War of Liberation against the French Army, the figures of Mars and Bellona in the Garrison Church (Sculptures by Johan Georg Glume) were moved to the staircase of the City Palace. The church balustrade railings were draped in red and gold fabric and hung with commemorative plaques for the soldiers who had fallen in battle. On October 31, 1817 the first ecumenical service of the Reformed Calvinist and Lutheran Churches was performed on the occasion of the 300th Anniversary of the Reformation.

Friedrich Wilhelm IV, while still the crown prince, began making designs for the modernization of the Garrison Church. He suggested building a five-sided basilica ten times the size of the existing church which was never realized. The only change made during his reign was the addition of a 10-sided christening chapel in the southwest vestibule (1886), followed by renovation work in the nave (also 1886), and repair work on the tower. Later a new “wilhelminische” interior, designed and realized by Friedrich Laske. It was characterized by the representational style popular at the time and featured newly arranged cypress wood pews, and richly decorated paneling. The balustrade railings were embellished with molding and decorative elements (cartouches) embossed with gold. Friedrich Laske was also responsible for new architectural demands such as fire protection, heating, lighting, and improved of visibility from the balconies. The number of war trophies rose to 117 French flags, 25 Danish flags and 7 Austrian banners. Organ registers were increased from 42 to 46 while the organ pipes remained unchanged. In 1907 a wrought iron gate was added to the tower entrance, and in 1910 Kaiser Wilhelm II donated a splendid altar table, ending an era of considerable embellishment.

According to Article 245 of the Versailles Treaty the French trophies should have been returned to France, but in July 1919 they were removed by persons unknown and, to this day, have never been found. They were replaced by flags of the now defunct Prussian regiments. The role of the Garrison Church, long known for fostering church music, had been neglected and was reestablished in the 20th century largely by Professor Otto Becker, who served as organist and performed on the carillon and organ from 1910 until 1945. During this period over 2000 carillon and organ concerts, oratories, religious concerts and chamber music concerts were performed in the Garrison Church. Incidentally Prof. Becker also served as organist in Potsdam’s synagogue from 1915 until 1933.

From 1925 until 1930 the architect Karl Daubitz undertook wide ranging repair work documented by hundreds of drawings and photos which still exist.

Nazi era until destruction

The Nazis hoped for a majority of votes in the parliamentary elections held under an extremely uncertain climate of judicial insecurity and violence on March 5, 1933. Their plan was to dissolve Parliament to pave the way for dictatorship. Already on the eve of the burning of the Reichstag the idea to celebrate the reopening of Parliament in the Garrison Church was born. On March 2 the plan was approved and six days later March 21 was decided as the celebration date. After protests from church authorities and the President of Parliament, it was agreed that only the opening ceremony would be held in the Garrison Church. The official opening meeting was to take place next door in the “Langen Stall”. For lack of time this plan too was reversed, and the Kroll Opera became the venue for the event. The intentionally-chosen date fell on the anniversary of the opening of the first Reichstag Parliament by Kaiser Wilhelm I in the White Salon in the Berlin Palace on March 21, 1871. This time Parliamentary President Paul von Hindenburg was seen by many as a substitute for the Kaiser, allowing Hitler’s “Machtergreifung” to become a symbol of a Prussian conservative rebirth of the nation (“Wiedergeburt der Nation). The deal was sealed by a handshake between the Chancellor, Hitler, and the President, von Hindenburg Paul von Hindenburg.[1] A famous photograph of it by the American (N.Y. Times) photographer, Theo Eisenhard, became the media icon of the day. Yet the handshake represented no more and no less than Hitler’s dismissal of Hindenburg.[2]

National Socialist leadership led Germany into the Second World War which left Potsdam heavily damaged. For fear of bombardments the coffins of Friedrich II and his father, Friedrich Wilhelm I were removed from the Garrison Church in 1943 and placed in a bunker in today’s German Army Command Center in Potsdam. After the British bombings on April 14 and 15, 1945 it looked as though the church had remained unscathed, but on the 15th the “Lange Stall next door took a direct hit, and the ensuing fire storm entered the church through windows broken by the bombing the night before. The fire destroyed the wooden galleries and the roof before it entered the tower, where wooden ventilation shutters needed for the carillon mechanic allowed the fire to spread quickly. Damage to water pipes and low water pressure resulting from the bombings made it impossible for fire hoses to reach the source of the blaze. Firemen could only watch helplessly as first the tower burned from top to bottom followed by the wooden beams in the church nave. Only the crucifix, chandeliers and the altar table could be saved before the enormous heat caused an unexploded ordnance to detonate. One by one the carillon bells loosened and fell nearly 80 meters to the ground until finally the oaken roof of the tower also collapsed ending the long existence of Potsdam’s most famous musical instrument. Only the ruined outside walls of the church and a stump of its tower remained.[3]

The congregation, now much reduced in number, managed to maintain ownership of the land belonging to the Garrison Church Potsdam after negotiating with local government authorities. Aside from the church ruin, the parish hall and two further dwellings were in desolate condition and, with help from both Church and State institutions, every effort was made to repair them. On July 25, 1949 the parish council decided to rename the church Holy Crucifix Church in order to free it and its parishioners from the burden of Prussian militarism and mark the beginning of a new era dedicated to awareness of sin and Christ’s suffering. Within the year the Holy Crucifix congregation moved into a chapel built within the ruins of the bell tower. Two newly-caste bells rang to announce services. The 1960s saw the beginning of reconstruction. Visitors could make appointments with the church custodian to climb 60 meters to the top of the tower. In 1966 construction work on 5 tower landings came to an abrupt end, when in August the leaders of the Potsdam Communist Party decided to have the ruins removed without consulting the general public.[4]

A year later, Walter Ulbricht, President of the East German state and a staunch opponent to the church and all that had to do with the Prussian monarchy, visited Potsdam and, during a three-hour debate over the future of building policy, asked, “What right does this ruin have to exist in Potsdam?”[5] Further, he declared that all ruins in Potsdam left from the war should disappear, for the establishment of a new church could only interfere with the creation of a socialist city image. Strong opposition from Church Authorities, those who wished to protect city monuments, architects and citizens both within and without East Germany were unable to prevent the decision by the city authorities on April 26, 1968 to destroy what was left of the Garrison Church.

Curiously, the decision was not unanimous as was the norm in the GDR. Four delegates voted against it. On May 14, 1968 several blasts demolished the church ruins. On June 19 after an unsuccessful attempt to destroy it, half of the tower ruin remained standing. The rest finally was finally destroyed on Sunday, June 23. Once the rubble was removed, construction began for the nearby Potsdam Computing Center in 1971.[6]

Ruin in 1966 shortly before demolition
File:Germany - 3rd Reich, 5 Reichsmark 1935-G.jpg
Germany - 3rd Reich, 5 Reichsmark 1935 - G (Karlsruhe,w/o date). Potsdam Garrison Church.
File:Germany - 3rd Reich, 5 Reichsmark 1934 - A.jpg
Germany - 3rd Reich, 5 Reichsmark 1934 - A (Berlin, w/date). Potsdam Garrison Church with "Day of Potsdam" date, celebrating the reconvening of the new "Reichstag" parliament - 21 March 1933.


In 1984 the Society for the Continuation of the Potsdam Carillon Tradition (acronym SCPC) was founded in Iserlohn. In 1987 work began to cast new bells for the carillon which were turned over to the city of Potsdam on April 14, 1991 shortly after German reunification. At the request of the Mayor of Potsdam, donations given to the Society were designated for the reconstruction of the Garrison Church. In 2001 the President of the SCPC initiated the founding of the “Stiftung Preußisches Kulturerbe” (Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation), which, once reconstruction was completed, would be responsible for future maintenance. He did not succeed, however, in reaching agreement with the Protestant (Evangelical) Church and the City of Potsdam over the subsequent use of the church and decided instead to dissolve the SCPC and pass its donations (over 6 million Euros) on to the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation. The members of the dissolved society then became a “Circle of Friends” without right of say but willing to cooperate with the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation.

On January 15, 2004 over 100 individuals from Brandenburg and Berlin signed up for “Call from Potsdam”, a petition calling for the complete reconstruction of the Hof und Garnisonkirche Potsdam. Patrons for the initiative at the time were Bishop Dr. Wolfgang Huber, Prime Minister of Brandenburg Matthias Platzeck and Minister of Interior Brandenburg Jörg Schönbohm.

In February 2004 on the initiative of the Industry Club of Potsdam, citizens from both Potsdam and Berlin founded the Society for the Reconstruction of the Garrison Church Potsdam (German acronym FWG) following the concept proposed by the Evangelical Church of Germany. The FWG is an agreement between persons and organizations with interests stemming from religious, philosophical, cultural or city planning backgrounds who wish to recommend and commit their support to the present and future work involved in the reconstruction of the Garrison Church according to the theme stated in Call from Potsdam.

At the end of a church service celebrated on June 23, 2008, Bishop Dr. Wolfgang Huber announced the creation of the Garrison Church Potsdam Foundation in the presence of many prominent personalities. The date was chosen on purpose: it was the 40th anniversary of the day the East German Communist government, without authorization and despite massive protest in and outside the country, blew up the remnants of the Garrison Church; remnants which could have been reconstructed. The purpose and aim of the new foundation is to rebuild the Garrison Church as a lesson of conscience. On June 25, 2011 a temporary chapel was opened to the public. It contains an exhibition marking the past and future history of the Garrison Church and stands just behind the spot where future church will one day be built.

The leaders of the Evangelical Church of Germany decided in 2010 that the chapel should be an official parish church with its own pastor as of 2011. Since July 2013 the Garrison Church Foundation has official permission for the reconstruction of the church tower. By clearing the area and re-routing the course of Broad Street to accommodate as nearly as possible the original building site; two important premises for the start of construction have already been met. Consecration of the reconstructed Garrison Church is due to be celebrated on October 31, 2017 (the 500th anniversary of the Reformation).

“He who closes his eyes to the Past will be blind to the Future … therefore we must understand that there can be no reconciliation without remembrance.” Richard von Weizsäcker, at the ceremony of remembrance of the 40th anniversary marking the end of the Second World War in the German Bundestag on May 8, 1985.

The reconstruction is subject to heavy criticism with citizens of Potsdam collecting signatures calling for a stop of the project. As of April 2014 over 6000 citizens signed against the reerection project. Critics see the church as a symbol of National Socialism and the project as a waste of public money which has been put into the project despite the supporters` repeated promise to finance the reconstruction solely from donations.


  1. Shirer, William (1960). The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. New York: Simon and Schuster. p. 197.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Quotes taken from the exhibition Catalogue published by Garrison Church Foundation/FWG: Page 6a.
  3. Excerpts from Pastor Gerhard Schroder's "Report on the Bombing and Burning of the Garrison Church on April 14, 1945: Brandenburg Cathedral Archives.
  4. "Preparatory Work May regarding Garrison Chirch from 9.12.1966", Page 1f (BLHA Rep. 530 Communist-District Management Potsdam)
  5. Quoted from Christian Emmerich-Focke: City Planning in Potsdam. Berlin 1999, Page 160.
  6. Zur Geschichte der Abrissbemühungen siehe Hans Berg: Die verlorene Potsdamer Mitte, Eigenverlag Hans Berg, Berlin 1999, pp. 14–19.


  • Reinhard Appel, Andreas Kitschke: Der Wiederaufbau der Potsdamer Garnisonkirche. Lingen Verlag, Köln 2006, ISBN 3-937490-70-1.
  • Ludwig Bamberg: Die Potsdamer Garnisonkirche. Baugeschichte - Ausstattung - Bedeutung. Lukas Verlag, Berlin 2006, ISBN 3-936872-86-4.
  • Laura J. Meilink-Hoedemaker Article about The Amsterdam bell-foundry under Jan Albert de Grave 1699-1729, in 'Klok en Klepel' the Dutch bulletin of the 'Nederlandse Klokkenspel Vereniging.' nr 115 Dec 2011
  • Luc Rombouts: Zingend Brons, uitgeverij Davidsfonds Leuven, 2010, ISBN 978-90-5826-720-7 (in Dutch; the English version will come soon)
  • Winfred Ellerhorst: Das Glockenspiel Deutschland 1939 (small booklet)

External links

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