The church has remained virtually unchanged to this day
29 August 2023

This song from the New Apostolic hymnal, number 212, is associated with the congregation of Kiel-East, Germany, in a special kind of way. Not only because they live so close to the sea and ships are part of people’s everyday life there, but also because their church looks like a ship.

Ruth Schade has been a member of the congregation for over twenty years. And she raves about the church building: “It’s right on the waterfront and directly opposite the Color Line terminal, the cruise ferry line operating to and from Norway. Sometimes you can hear the blasts from the ships during service. And our church building looks like a ship’s bow. It is so fitting. It is just great here and you get to enjoy the fresh sea air.”

Finding a location for a place of worship

The location on Werft Street very close to the dock- and shipyard adds to the maritime character of the congregation. The fact that the vibrations from the engines of the Norwegian cruise ships and the blasts from their horns on the Kiel Fjord sometimes mingle with the singing of the congregation does not bother anyone, because the proximity of the port also has advantages: the rector, Jürgen Marth, always looks forward to visitors in the holiday season: “We often have visiting brothers and sisters who join us for divine service in the morning before and after their trip to Norway.”

There has been a congregation in Kiel since 1898. Due to industrialisation—the shipyards in Kiel were an important economic factor—the first congregation grew and grew and split up further. The congregation of Kiel-Gaarden, from which the congregation of Kiel-East emerged 13 years ago together with the other congregations on the eastern shore, was founded in 1907. For a while, the services were held in a former horse stable. “Because Gaarden was the one hundredth congregation to get its own church here in northern Germany following the end of the Second World War, District Apostle Karl Weinmann had a lot of special and beautiful things done,” Jürgen Marth, relates.

The black tie

But first a piece of land had to be found. Jürgen Marth says: “Priest Ohlis, the rector at the time, jokingly said among the ministers that whoever found a suitable plot of land would get a beautiful black tie from him.” Deacon Leo Klaassen was out and about a lot to visit brothers and sisters. “And indeed, while out doing pastoral work he came across a piece of property that was beautifully situated on a slope on Gaarden’s main road, Werft Street.” The church won the bid, but the rector was unable to fulfil his promise due to his early death. Forty-five years later, Jürgen Marth, the present rector, remembers: “When I officiated at the golden wedding of Christa and Leo Klaassen in 2015, I remembered and presented Leo Klaassen with a black tie.”

The architect Uwe Niehaus designed the progressive church building, reminiscent of a ship’s bow, in keeping with the area’s maritime atmosphere. On 14 July 1969, the foundation stone was laid and after 17 months of construction, the church building was dedicated by Bishop Peter Hansen during the Christmas Day service.

Safe on the ship

The church building has remained virtually unchanged to this day, the rector, says. “The building has two floors. You come in on the lower level, and step into the so-called blue salon. We call it that because the tiles are all a beautiful dark blue. There is a cloakroom, the sacristy, a youth room, a room for the children, and toilet facilities. If you go up a flight of stairs—there is also a lift—you come into the main church hall, which looks like a ship’s bow. It is tapered towards Werft Street, towards the front, and has large stained glass windows and benches made of mahagony wood. The altar faces towards the land, the nave opens up towards the fjord.” Herbert Opitz has been in the congregation for 76 years and likens the church to a special ship: “The ship glides towards home like Noah’s ark. I am attached to this building. You go in and you leave happy.”

Not only the members like their church. “It sparks interest. Our church is also a point of interest,” the rector says. “We often have people at events, like ‘The Night of Churches’, who say. ‘I finally wanted to take a look at it.” It is not for nothing that the building has been a listed building since last year. “We were a little bit proud that the Kieler Nachrichten drew attention to our beautiful church,” the rector says with reference to the various articles that were featured in the local press. “The fact that it is listed has no bearing on normal church operations.” He has therefore rigorously rejected requests for any reuse of the site. He prefers that it be used for cultural events. For example, the IVocalisti choir sometimes uses the church as a rehearsal and concert space.

A pilot in stormy waters

Like many in the congregation, the rector has a maritime profession. He is a captain and works as a pilot on the Kiel Canal. “As a pilot you are on call a lot,” he says. “When I conduct services, someone has my phone in the back. I’ve actually already received a call during church.” But not while he was conducting a service: “When I conduct divine services, God has always held His hand over things.”

Even if the congregation sometimes has to do without its pilot during the services, they get to experience their captain at their congregational outing. Then Jürgen Marth charters a ship from another brother and sails across the Kiel Fjord and tells his brothers and sisters what he knows about the fjord.