Mystery Worshipper: Variable Bede
Location: Karlsruhe, Baden-Württemberg, Germany
Date of visit: Sunday, 26 October 2008, 10:30am
The cornerstone of the original church was laid in 1807. Destroyed in an air raid in 1944, the church was rebuilt by the German architect and urban planner Horst Edward Linde largely along the lines of the original building and was reopened in 1958. It has a neo-classical front (like the old one), reminiscent of a Greek temple, but the interior is modern and quite pleasant very airy and spacious, with fluted columns to continue the neo-classical theme of the exterior.
The Stadtkirche shares a liturgical timetable with the nearby Kleine Kirche, alternating Sunday communion services between the two. Stadtkirche also conducts a number of social activities during the week, including women's gymnastics and a "mini club" for small children.
Karlsruhe, meaning "Karl’s Rest", was founded in 1715 by the Margrave Karl Wilhelm of Baden-Durlach as a place to womanise away from the prying eyes of his wife. Situated on the Rhine River at the foot of the Black Forest, the city is a cultural centre with an extraordinary wealth of museums. The Margrave's earthly remains rest in a mausoleum in the shape of a pyramid in the centre of the marketplace. The church is located beside the pyramid. Karlsruhe is now the seat of two of the major German federal courts, as well as the country's oldest technical university.
Landesbischof Dr Ulrich Fischer preached and celebrated. Some eucharistic ministers came up from the congregation to help distribute communion.
What was the name of the service?Gottesdienst mit Abendmahl und Taufe (Eucharist with baptism)
How full was the building?
About 130 people. According to the leaflet, there are 874 seats in the nave, although I suspect it would be uncomfortably crowded above 600.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A man said Guten Morgen and handed me a hymnal as I came in. I asked him if as a member of another church I could receive communion there. He said yes in an "of course" sort of way. (I was sure the Evangelical Church in Germany has open communion, but I wanted to be certain, especially since I thought it might be obvious I wasn't a regular.)
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes, and there was a lot of sitting-down time. We sang all the hymns sitting down, and stood up only for a few prayers and to receive communion.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There were a lot of people smiling and greeting each other; it was friendly but not noisy.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
Guten Morgen und Wilkommen – then a few words I couldn't get – 23sten Sonntag nach Trinitatis.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Just the Evangelisches Gesangbuch (Protestant Hymnal). Partway through the service, I discovered the liturgical texts (such as the creed), which were useful.
What musical instruments were played?
The organist and choir must have been hiding in the balcony over the nave. The music was very good (for me personally, this is an important point in a church).
Did anything distract you?
Language difficulties (mine) and flipping through the hymnal to look for liturgical hints. An order of service would have been helpful to me, but I think all the regulars knew it.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Informal, friendly but reverent. Everyone seemed genuinely happy to be there. The style was low church compared to what I'm used to (no processional candles, reduced vestments), but I'm not familiar with German Protestant worship, so I don't know whether this is typical. For communion, the celebrant and ministers brought several large platters of bread, sliced in triangles and piled up, down from the high altar to the lower one. (I couldn't help but think of finger sandwiches ... I'm sorry!) When it was time to distribute communion, everyone receiving went to the area around the lower altar and formed a loop. After receiving, we held hands with our neighbours while the celebrant said something along the lines of "Peace of the Lord be with you all."
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – I can't be certain how good the sermon was, since I didn't understand all of it, but he seemed confident and articulate.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
I had trouble keeping up with the German, but it had something to do with Abraham's negotiation with God about Sodom and Gomorrah as an example of praying boldly.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The music was good, and there was a lot of it – not just hymns but quite a bit of well-played "incidental" organ music as well as a prelude and voluntary.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I was a bit embarrassed and nervous about not knowing the liturgy and not being able to understand everything, but I don't think I made any big faux pas.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I hung around at the back and lit a candle, and a few people smiled and said Guten Morgen as they passed by on their way out.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – As I mentioned above, everyone seemed happy to be there (not just the relatives of the child being baptised), and the music was very good. I'm sure if I lived there I would pick up the language and start to understand the sermons better.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Thinking, "Yum, German bread!" while receiving communion.