Monument to war’s destruction in danger
Funds sought to save German church before it crumbles
TBERLIN he jagged silhouette and smashed spire of Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church make it one of Berlin’s most familiar symbols of World War II bombing. But it’s in desperate need of repair, and a campaign to raise funds to fix it has fallen short of its goals. Background:
The church was built in the 1890s to honor Kaiser Wilhelm I. Bombs fell on the building Nov. 3, 1943. Instead of being razed or repaired, the half- ruin that became known as the “ Hollow Tooth” was left standing as a reminder of war’s destructive force. More than 1 million visitors a year stroll through its wrecked splendor. The problem:
Although the stones underwent restoration about two years ago, moisture still is seeping into cracks, which require round after round of sealing to keep the rocks from expanding and, ultimately, tumbling down to the street or the shattered remains of its foyer. Financial pressure:
Wolfgang Kuhla, head of the memorial church management board, said a particularly cold winter might have structural consequences that would force the church to close to visitors by spring next year unless $ 6 million is raised for restoration work. Raised to date:
About $ 740,000 in contributions have been gathered, along with a pledge by the Berlin Senate of about $ 2.2 million, and a donation of nearly $ 15,000 by Hertha BSC, a Berlin- based professional soccer club, from earnings of its fan shop.
An eBay auction to climb the tower is drumming up interest, and soon 12 artists from around the world will paint portraits of the church for a Sept. 22 auction by Christie’s in Berlin.
And for about $ 150, donors can sponsor a crack in the masonry and get their name on the wall once restoration is completed. But restorers say they’re only about halfway to the sum they need to keep the church open. A surprise ally:
The campaign to save the church began in November with a donation of 500 pounds, then about $ 1,000, from Charles Jeffrey Gray, who flew on British bombing raids over Berlin, though not the one when the church was hit.
Gray said he has tried collecting money in Britain, specifically from the remaining members of his Royal Air Force 61st Squadron and an association of bomber veterans. Some were dubious about the effort, noting that Germany had started World War II.
“ They were not enthusiastic about giving money,” he said. “ They all pleaded poverty.”
“ I thought “ Futility of war”: since the people of Berlin wanted the tower to remain as a symbol of the futility of war, that they were right not to have pulled it down.”
Wolfgang Kuhla heads the memorial church management board. He warns that a particularly cold winter might have structural consequences.