Plans to rebuild a church in Germany that is linked to Hitler and the rise of the Nazi party have divided the country and sparked a row about how the nation deals with its past.
Buildings aren’t just bricks and mortar – they have meaning and say something. If you doubt that, think of the controversy in the German city of Potsdam where a plan to rebuild a church has set factions against each other.
The dispute is, of course, not over just any old church but one of the most significant in German history. The Garrison Church, or Garnisonkirche, was the parish and regimental church of the Prussian royal family. Bach played the organ there and the kings of Prussia, including Frederick the Great, were buried there.
For me, this church is a symbol of evil. It’s the place where the Third Reich was born”
But this is not why it is controversial. It is also the church in which Hitler was legitimised in the eyes of Germany’s upper class. On 23 March 1933, the Nazis orchestrated a propaganda performance which transformed Hitler from someone the elite saw as a vulgar little man into someone they respected. “The Day of Potsdam”, as it became known, opened the way for him to take all power.
So it’s no wonder that there’s a row. The church was partially destroyed by the Royal Air Force in 1945 and then obliterated in 1968 by the official dynamiters of communist East Germany. But now the money’s being raised for a full reconstruction. A foundation stone has already been laid.
“For me, this church is a symbol of evil,” says Maximilian Dalichow who was brought up in Potsdam and opposes the building work.
“It’s the place where the Third Reich was born. It’s where it came into being.”
There’s no doubt that it was an infamous day. On the Day of Potsdam in 1933, Hitler, the leader of the biggest party in the newly-elected German parliament, bowed, apparently humbly, to the president of the country, Paul von Hindenburg. The Nazi leader, dressed in a civilian tail coat rather than a military uniform, shook Hindenburg’s hand in a grand gesture of false humility which was filmed for mass distribution.