The Taborkirche is one of those churches that has never really entered my mind until I heard about its – admittedly very modern and progressive – music program, at which point I asked myself: what’s its like running a Kreuzberg church in 2016 Berlin? I talked to Pastor Stefan Matthias, who generously invited me to find out more about his community in the Kiez.
First, I have to admit that urban churches are a question mark to me. As a non-Christian, I regard Jesus’ headquarters as aesthetic landmarks rather than religious congregations (and as slightly uncomfortable. Not that mosques are much friendlier per se, but there’s usually a lot of carpet and children screaming, which ease things up). Some churches are grand monuments, visited daily by masses of tourists; but others go a little bit unnoticed, even by those who pass by every day (read: me).
Generally, the church is globally struggling with its member count, but that doesn’t mean it’s not ready to adapt to the times. Pastor Stefan Matthias is a big fan of art and music – of the electronic kind, too – and every now and then, he opens the doors of the Taborkirche to let esteemed artists perform and exhibit their works.
Religion and art always have gone together. The difference nowadays is that the art is now independent of belief, sometimes even critical of religion. Before I talked to the pastor, I’d assumed that using the church as a platform for non-religious events was some sort of marketing ploy. Income has to be generated, if not from the members of community, then in other ways, I thought. But I was surprised to learn that the Taborkirche is not a venue to be rented; it’s a performance space curated by the pastor personally.
Other churches have gone down this route – the Passionskirche in Kreuzberg 61, for example – but the Taborkirche is a Kiez church, the pastor says, that will open its doors to the local community and their ideas, and not necessarily to the highest bidder. The ongoing Kiez exhibition proved the notion: small artworks by residents of the neighborhood are on display in the left wing of the church. The artists are the ones who put together their ideas and curate the exhibition, and are free to do as they see fit for the church.
The Pastor, himself from Berlin, also hosts meditation courses and even meditation retreats, mixing up different spiritual practices that get with the times. Although by no means modern looking, Pastor Stefan Matthias is definitely the type of person to brush off the dust of the churches image. And, you know, he’s a cool guy.
Wrangelkiez & Taborkirche
I asked Pastor Stefan whether he believed that the churches responsibility should transcend its mandate of faith, and he said yes – that the church is also part of the community. That’s why the Taborgemeinde is responsible for establishing a large Kindergarden for children of every confession, and for sheltering Kreuzbergs homeless in the cold winter.
All my life, I had to visit mosques that were hidden in industrial districts, in basements, in shady areas – because the communities were usually too broke to afford building a real mosque in Germany (let alone the following scrutiny). And speaking of communities: they were made up, usually, of drop-ins, people who hardly spoke the same language, who weren’t of the same social status, who came and went with the tides of their residency statues. Needless to say: I had no sense of community or religion in those backstreet mosques. I can’t imagine any non-religious art in a mosque. Stepping into Taborkirche and hearing about how much is done for the community, religious or not – it left me longing for a spiritual home like this, one that I can actually get behind, or rather, one that gets behind me. One that will be there … forever. Well, at least we have carpets, though.
While the concept of the Christian belief and the church itself is as alien to me as Islam is to most of my readers, I am still intrigued by how much a building alone can dominate general perceptions. The church was built in 1904 and its tower is currently being re-constructed, but passing by the end of the Wrangelstraße, this landmark just sits there unfazed by all the changes of the Kiez, untouched by the hectic development of life and living in Berlin. The church – the building – is the embodiment of urban stability. While the rest of the city is being hawked off to rainmakers, the church is here forever. If walls could talk!