Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin
Today we shall go to church.
In Oranienstrasse 132-134, or rather what we know today as the aforementioned address, the members of the newly established St.-Jacobi-Gemeinde are celebrating the laying of the foundation stone for their new church. The event took place in the presence of the most excellent guest, His Royal Majesty Friedrich Wilhem IV himself and the representatives of the main national and municipal authorities.
Friedrich Wilhelm IV had particular interest in the church and the progress of its construction: it was after all him who paid for the temple. The 26,000 Talern named as the price for what was then still an open field bordering on the edges of another parish, Luisenstadt-Gemeinde, came mostly from the (undoubtedly velvet) royal purse.
The location were the founding stone was laid was not the parish´s first choice. Originally, the church was to be built in today´s Waldeckpark, then the local parochial cemetery of the Luisenstadt-Gemeinde. But since the new St.-Jacobi-Gemeinde was in fact established after the very first splitting of a church parish in Berlin and by no means a friendly one, the old parish authorities kindly declined the offer.
The official inauguration ceremony, also in the presence of the King and his wife took place on October 5th, 1845. The church was the thing to behold: its architect, Friedrich August Stüler (Schinkel´s successor) drew his inspiration from the distant past: Byzantium, ancient Christian temples, basilica cleverly combined with early Italian Romanesque style.
Stüler and Gustav Holzmann, who also built St.-Andreaskirche in today´s Friedrichshain (it stood not far from today´s Ostbahnhof but fell prey to the air-raid bombing of May 1944) and who would soon afterwards become the head of Berlin´s Town Planning Department, were painting in generous brush-strokes. Apart from the three-nave interior, they provided the temple with an impressive Campanile (a bell-tower of belfry), an atrium and a beautiful arcade court – all of those elements quite an unusual sight in otherwise a tad less adventurous Prussian parochial architecture. Sadly, almost all of their work burnt down to cinders or fell apart during the heaviest ever air-raid over Kreuzberg on February 3rd, 1945 (which was mentioned in another one of the Today in Kreuzberg posts).
The remaining houses, the tower (miraculously still there despite the bombs) and the atrium could not be used for church services once the war was over so a temporary church was built next to the ruins. It served the parish for 10 years from 1947 until 1957. In 1953 the re-construction works begin and brick by brick the old church is put up together again with perfect historical faithfulness. On April 4th, 1957 the second inauguration of St.-Jacobikirche takes place. Today it is considered to be the oldest preserved church in Kreuzberg.
By the way, not everyone is aware of the fact that the parish and the church received their name from the King himself, who got inspired by the Jakobs-Hospital (St James Hospital) in – where else? – Alte Jakobstrasse right behind the corner. Jakobs-Hospital was a retirement home for the members of the neighbouring St.-Petri-Gemeinde. This street, until today called Alte-Jakobstrasse, was the oldest street in the new parish AND part of the Jakobsweg (St. James´ Way), the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
Behind the church you will find a tiny little lane, looking lost and charming and since 1849 known as Jakobikirchstrasse. At its end, right behind the St.-Jakobikirche stand two 1920s-looking villas that belong to the parish. The thing is neither are they “1920s” nor available (I know for I asked). They were built as part of Berlin IBA in the 1980s. So if I should ever again say that modern architecture is nothing but an eyesore and a waste of otherwise perfectly good ferroconcrete, please remind me that Jakobikirchstrasse still proves me wrong.