Church of St Adalbert by Clemens Holzmeister Photo: Beek100
The catholic church of St. Adalbert was built between 1933 and 1934 in Berlin by the Austrian architect Clemens Holzmeister. Sitting quietly between residential buildings on a narrow and difficult reclaimed site, the church conceals an architectural gem with a fascinating history.
In the early ’30s, many catholics migrated from Eastern Europe to Germany, making the premises of St. Sebastian in central Berlin insufficient. In 1933 the parish acquired a small backyard with the adjacent site of an old factory and turned to Holzmeister -at that time already a well known architect- for a design. The patron saint was to be St. Adalbert of Prague since a large part of the newly formed community was originating from areas converted by the bishop martyr many centuries ago.
The available building site was a narrow gap between two residential buildings and the disused factory. Fully enclosed on three sides, the architect concentrated his efforts on making the fourth side -the south facade- as impactful as possible yet architecturally respectful to the existing urban fabric dominated by residential blocks. He chose brown red brick to contrast with the surrounding white rendered facades and used it masterfully to create a fortress-like structure with a cylindrical element flanked by two rectangular towers.
Due to the limiting geometry of the site, access to the church is indirect via the adjacent residential block on Linienstraße but the main entrance is on the parallel Torstraße where a pair of double doors lead to a courtyard which hides the actual bronze entrance to the church.
Plan of the church showing the unusual entrance, nave with baptismal chapel, altar with round apse and belfry on the left hand side Photo: Grundriss
and the The disused factory building was integrated into the rectangular hall structure of St. Adalbert: the lower three stories of the former factory were converted into the vestibule of the church, the organ loft and the parish hall. From the entrance, the rectangular hall of the church appears as a unified column-free space with a flat ceiling. But the irregularity of the plan also becomes perceivable: the main entrance is neither at the centre of the narrow side nor on the axis of the choir on the opposite end. However, Holzmeister took advantage of this unusual layout to accommodate a baptismal chapel and a narrow staircase leading to the belfry overlooking Linienstraße.
Column-free interior focused on the main altar Photo: F. A. Hendel
The hall is lit through round arch windows set high into the wall on the narrow side above the entrance and the left longitudinal wall. In keeping with christocentric design, one’s gaze is drawn to the altar illuminated from above through windows positioned high into the semi-circular apse which protrudes through the ceiling creating an aura of mystery around the sanctuary. Mosaics of St. Sebastian, St. Peter, St. Adalbert and St. Hedwig guard the tabernacle from the round structure and the side altars are lit by richly coloured stained glass windows rising towards the ceiling.
St. Sebastian, St. Peter, St. Adalbert and St. Hedwig above the central altar Photo: Adrian Dunn
The church has subsequently suffered alterations on two occasions. Partially bombed during second world war, it was restored between 1946 and 1948 after being used as a stable by soldiers. More recently, in 1996, as part of a modernisation programme, some of the original furnishings designed by Holzmeister were removed, including a highly ornate communion rail.
The church of St. Adalbert in Berlin creates a memorable presence by virtue of its bold facade design and building fabrics The church fits into the scale of the environment, yet visually creates a striking contrast with the surrounding apartment buildings, marking this place as one of a higher meaning and purpose.
South facade on Linienstraße Photo: Sludge G