Mon­u­ment to war’s de­struc­tion in dan­ger

Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend - - CAMPAIGN 2008 -

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.

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