THE SOPHIENKIRCHE: The church of the hapless queen
The Hackesche Höfe are not only a prominent place themselves, they are also surrounded by illustrious neighbors. One of them is the baroque Sophienkirche. Its construction is linked to the sad history of its foundress.
STROLLING AND PRAYING
The Hackesche Höfe connect worlds that could not be more different. At Hackescher Markt, in front of the entrance to Rosenthaler Straße and still in the first courtyard, there is a metropolitan bustle. The further you dive into the courtyards’ cosmos, the quieter and greener it gets. The view reaches beyond the ivy-covered walls of the courtyards to the beautiful old trees of two neighboring properties, which are dedicated to devotion, to memory, to eternity: On the one hand, there is the former Jewish cemetery, the oldest in Berlin. To the north is the Sophienkirche and a small park surrounding it. There was once a cemetery here, too. A few funerary monuments of important personalities still remind us of it.
Photo: Old gravestones at the Sophienkirche © Z Thomas
BEAUTIFUL AND PIOUS
The Sophienkirche is named after Sophia Louise of Mecklenburg-Schwerin (1685-1735). She was the third wife of Frederick I, the Brandenburg elector who crowned himself Prussian king. The beautiful young woman was married to the aging monarch in order to ensure succession to the throne through another male descendant. However, the marriage remained childless.
Sophia Louise adhered to a particularly pious, Lutheran, strand of Protestantism. She was inspired by missionary zeal. When the inhabitants of the Spandau suburb demanded their own parish church of the same confession, the queen supported the project with a considerable sum from her private purse. She thus became the church's benefactress.
Photo: This painting of Sophie Luise of Mecklenburg-Schwerin can be seen in the Sophienkirche.
THE SPANDAUER VORSTADT
The area of the Spandauer Vorstadt was at that time situated outside the city walls – in front of the gate that one had to pass to get to Spandau. But a large number of people had already settled here. And they didn't want to walk a long way to the next church – which was near today's Alexanderplatz. Part of the land for the new church was donated to the congregation by the Jewish community. In the 17th century, the Jewish community had established its cemetery on Oranienburger Straße. In the deed of donation, the two communities promised each other eternal good neighborliness.
THE UNDESIRABLE QUEEN
Sophia Louise increasingly falls out of favor at court and annoys those around her with her religious fanaticism. Scheming courtiers make her life difficult. The queen becomes depressed and finally goes insane. When she wanders around the city palace at night, covered in blood from a cut, her seriously ill husband thinks she is a messenger of death. Frederick separates from her and takes her to a country estate. When he dies in 1713, his successor Frederick William I even deports the unloved stepmother to her family in Schwerin. In the same year, the church whose construction Sophia Louise had sponsored is consecrated. The queen is not invited. The church is also not named after her, as originally intended. Instead, it is given the name Spandauische Kirche (Spandau Church).
After Frederick William's death, his son and successor Frederick II revises the decision of his father, whom he hated. He renames the church Sophienkirche. And that is its name to this day.
BAROQUE AND BEES
It was not until some twenty years after the consecration that the slender 69-meter tower was erected, the only surviving baroque church tower in Berlin. On special occasions, the church's sponsoring association offers guided tours, during which one can enjoy a unique view over the rooftops of Berlin's city center from the viewing platform. While there, you have to watch out for the inhabitants of a beehive set up there. The delicious honey can be bought in a shop nearby.
Photo: Bells in the tower of the Sophienkirche
In 1891/1892, the interior of the church was completely remodeled in neo-baroque style. Of the original nave, only the bare masonry remained. The pulpit, the baptismal font and the organ case have been preserved from the baroque period. At the beginning of the 20th century, the Sophiengemeinde built an ensemble of five-story residential houses on both sides of the church forecourt – also in neo-baroque style. The houses are still owned by the parish today. The façades are a sight to behold: Some of them are still littered with bullet holes from house-to-house fighting in April 1945. When work recently began on renovating the façades, tourist guides in Berlin Mitte were alarmed. They feared losing an integral part of their tours. But a large number of the bullet holes remain as testimony to a terrible chapter in Berlin's history and are even being preserved as historical monuments.
Photo: Bullet holes on the façade of a residential building at the Sophienkirche
Today, the Sophienkirche belongs to the Gemeinde am Weinberg together with four other churches and has been pastored by the Rev. Dr. Christine Schlund since 2016. We meet Ms Schlund one afternoon in the Sophienkirche. She had to step in at short notice to guard the "Open Church." The congregation is proud to open the church to visitors every day between 2 and 6 pm. Usually, volunteer members make themselves available for this purpose.
Photo: Dr. Christine Schlund, the pastor of the "Gemeinde am Weinberg" at the entrance to the Sophienkirche
As a special feature of the congregation, the pastor emphasizes its strongly Jewish neighborhood. Back in GDR times, a pastor of the Sophienkirche founded the Judaism and Christianity working group, which still exists today. Since the 1990s, many Jewish institutions have been reopened around the Sophienkirche, for example the Jewish grammar school right next door. Among the pupils are also members of the church community. An integral part of community life is an annual memorial service on November 9, followed by a silent walk through the neighborhood in remembrance of the 1938 pogrom. "It is always almost as well attended as Christmas celebrations," Pastor Schlund reports.
Photo: Entrance building of the former Neue Synagoge, © Jana Blechschmidt
A SPECIAL CONGREGATION
Ms Schlund finds the central location of the church exciting, though it is not not primarily visited by tourists. This is because the Sophienkirche lies within a lively neighborhood. In the past decades, various waves of incomers have brought very different people to the neighborhood. And so it is that Schlund can enjoy a relatively young, committed and diverse congregation. In the parish's own day-care center, children play hide-and-seek between the gravestones of the former cemetery, this year there are about 100 confirmands, and just as many children take part in the summer camp. And the Hackesche Höfe? Pastor Schlund knows that parishioners live here too. She passes through the courtyards almost daily, likes to have a coffee here and occasionally buys a piece at the Blutgeschwister or a souvenir at Eat Berlin.
Photo: The Sophienkirche is open to visitors daily between 2 and 6 pm.