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Loss, Recovery, and Preservation of Churches and Church Art in the Former German Eastern Regions and in Eastern Europe

Verlust, Rettung und Bewahrung von Kirchen und kirchlicher Kunst in den ehemaligen deutschen Ostgebieten und im oestlichen Europa

Schlarb, Cornelia. "Loss, Recovery, and Preservation of Churches and Church Art in the Former German Eastern Regions and in Eastern Europe." Neues Leben, December 2007.

This translation from the original German-language text to American English is provided by Alex Herzog, Boulder, Colorado


This year's annual conference of the Special Committee for Church-Historical Work of the EKMOE (Ev.-Luth. Commission for Central and Eastern Europe of the EKD [Ev.-Luth. Church of Germany]) took place Oct. 16 - 19, 2008 in Wittenberg. This get-together was arranged in conjunction with the convention Association of the former Ev.-Lutheran Churches of the East, the Institute of Churches of the East at Muenster University, and the Association for East-German Church History.

A the beginning of the conference, Provost Siegfried T. Kasparick spoke about the situation regarding church buildings and the religious multiplicity in Luther's city and in his area. Wittenberg is developing more and more into a pilgrim destination and to a "cult locale" for Lutherans all over the world. Although circa 85 percent of the population is non-Christian, several church building associations have been formed in recent years for the purpose of preserving "their" village church.

During the subsequent introductory lecture, Prof. Dr. Peter Maser addressed the topic of "The Fate of Church Structures and Church Art in Eastern Europe as an Academic and Ecclesiastical Problem. "He spoke of the fact that: love of the old homelands" of refugees and deportees today serves as a "bridge toward public realization of Eastern Europe," and he appealed that church art be catalogues professionally, in so far as that might not have been done yet. Inventory and losses should be documented by mixed commissions, and memorial rooms ought to be created.

Above all, a coordination point should be established which brings together the many regional projects and individual initiatives, defines appropriate conceptualization, and offers the structural pre-conditions for consultations. The culture of remembrance ought to become more professional. Of importance would be a "national fund" for the purpose of financing all such work. Just the capturing and recording of publications that have appeared in various languages appears to be a worthwhile project. The churches, too, ought to make known their firm interest in the cultural and sacred material in Eastern Europe, so that whatever can be preserved will be preserved, and thus to make history fruitful for the future.

During the course of the three days of meetings, speakers, using meaningful and impressive photos, often provided insights into various local conditions and regional initiatives and projects. Pastor Ulrich Hutter-Wolandt provided a church-historical overview of the influence of the Reformation on Eastern Europe. Dr/. Peter C.A. Moree of Prague spoke on conditions in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. A report on East-Prussia (Oblast Kaliningrad) was given by retired Pastor Thomas Passauer of Berlin, who, along with Peter Maser, only recently toured the region and had brought along a wealth of pictorial material. Of a total of 200 former churches, sixty-seven are still preserved at least as ruins. Since early 1990, Kalinigrad has had a Lutheran community, comprised overwhelmingly of resettled German-Russian families.

Dr. Wolfram G. Theilemann of the Ecclesiastical Archive of the Ev.-Luth. Church A.B. in Romania.poke of retrenching. In Siebenbuergen one must count on having to give up on about forty percent of all churches and church structures, just within the next few years. An approach combining various projects might actually save many structures from decaying, but not all. New concepts are needed, as well as a directing office for securing church structures.

In Latvia several church structures have been restored in recent years. Prof. Dr. Ojars Sparitus of Riga and his students, mostly in collaboration with Baltic-German and state initiatives, has been taking care of and documenting these efforts.

Dr. Peter Schabe presented the German-Polish Foundation for cultivating culture and protecting memorials and reported on initial successes in preserving certain memorials and on the basic methods of developing projects. Projects that are doable must be well presented, urgent, have the necessary financing, and implementable. A good concept of how to make sue of a certain project, plus a way of making it acceptable, must be present.

Thomas Rey of the Volksbund Deutscher Kreisgraeberfuersorge [Ethnic Association for Maintaining War Graves] explained that all construction of panned projects should be completed by 2015, so that the work on memorials is gaining ever greater importance. The culture of memorializing requires locales that can serve as places of learning, as cultural storage sites, and as a reminder for peace.

The presentation by the director of the Ev.-Luth. Central Archive (EZA) in Berlin, Dr. Christa Stache, who had left the conference health reasons, was given by Dr. Theilemann. This particular archive houses primarily documents and ecclesiastical wares (e.g., Eucharistic pieces, seals, stamps, cards, and plans) from the East-Prussian regions, from churches, that used to be under oversight of the Ev/-Luth. Council in Berlin. EZA contains, for example, a data bank concerning bells of the former Eastern regions and also concerning the "Danziger Parementenschutz [???]." Just recently the Archive of the Diaspora Assistance Project of the Gustav_Adolf-Association of Leipzig was merged into the  EZA.

The entire event was rounded out via a city tour that was accompanied by Michael Schicketanz dressed as Philipp Melanchthon (!), and by a Sunday morning service in the Stadtkirche.

Concerning Bessarabia and still existing churches and other houses of prayer there, as far as I know, no comprehensive documentation with historical and current photos and documents exists. Before all traces are gone, this would certainly constitute a fruitful project.

Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation of this article.

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