English Corner

Every month Gregory Gillum offers some information about our  congregation‘s three churches in Kreuzberg-Mitte.

You can reach him by email:  greggillum@t-online.de

April 2019

Easter in Europe
I visited Europe for the first time during an Easter holiday break from school. I lived in Michigan in the US and had the opportunity to travel with the high school’s French Club on a guided tour that took us through portions of France, Switzerland, Italy and Monaco. As a teenager, I was excited to travel apart from my parents for the first time. I had also gotten to know the French language students with whom I would be traveling, and they took me under their wing. Our tour started with several days spent seeing the sights of the most popular area of French tourism: Paris.

As we adjusted to the time zone and exploring a European country for the first time, our Easter Sunday was spent in Paris. At that time, my family in the US attended a Presbyterian church and normally we would have attended the Easter Sunday morning service together. But since my intention was to have new experiences in new lands, I attended an Easter Mass in Paris at Notre Dame Cathedral.

One of our tour guides took us interested visitors to the mass. I recall her explaining that she did not feel comfortable walking into the church during worship, so she would meet us outside the building after it was over. Although I did not feel called to missionary work with our tour guide, I did ask if I could join her outside if I left early. Later during the service, I walked outside and met her. There we talked and smoked – getting to know each other a bit – as the music and singing played in the background. I was not a student of French, but rather German. However, we used English and improvised the rest in order to learn about each other’s country and the religions practiced there. It was a great way to engage with a ‘foreigner’ in a way few guided tours could provide.

In the Ev. Kirchengemeinde Kreuzberg-Mitte, we celebrate the Passionszeit (Lenten season) with at least two high points: Palmsonntag (Palm Sunday) and Ostersonntag (Easter Sunday). In addition, our congregation has worship services throughout Holy Week – including an Easter Vigil on the Saturday night before Easter Sunday. Details on all these services are in the center calendar section of the Bote newsletter. I highly encourage you, if you are in town on a tour, visiting family, or live in the area and are curious about Church to come to one of these services. Please consider me your ‘tour guide’ if you see me there. I would be happy to talk in English or German and help you feel welcome in God’s House.

Greg Gillum

March 2019

Welcome Cards and Tickets

When I arrived in Berlin five years ago, I attended the Goethe Institut German Language School. As part of its preparation packet, the travel office recommended that students staying for the popular one-month courses plan to purchase a one-month BVG (Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe) ticket. With the BVG ticket, a person can travel the buses, subway and S-Bahn trains in and between the three main zones of the city unlimited – depending on which option he or she selects. It took me several days to acclimate and determine what kind of ticket to purchase. I decided to get the A-B ticket that covers all travel from the central city outward and nearly to Potsdam. BVG info in English is found at www.bvg.de/en.

Only after I moved to Berlin later that year did I discover the BWC (Berlin Welcome Card). This travel and discount card is available at the Hauptbahnhof, other major train stations and select tourist locations. Hotel staff can direct visitors where to purchase them or sometimes they sell them directly. The Welcome Card is great for people visiting our city for 2 to 6 days. With the card, in addition to the public transportation, purchasers receive discounts to local attractions and can book a city bus-tour. I recommend that people who make their own travel plans consider the Welcome Card. Find the English homepage at www.berlin-welcomecard.de/en.

As the church year quickly progresses, the month of March brings us to Ash Wednesday on March 6th. Please see the calendar and articles in this month’s Bote newsletter for worship service time and location. During the Lenten season, the Kreuzberg-Mitte congregation celebrates the traditional Sunday services such as Invocavit on March 10th, Reminiscere on March 17th, Okuli on March 24th and Lätare on March 31. German Lutheranism observes these Sundays like the Roman Catholic traditions: the Latin names are used, and each refers to that week’s opening Psalm verse for the service. If you attend one of these Sunday services with us, you will hear the psalm and an explanation of what part of Lent we are celebrating that day.

If you have questions or comments, please consider me your contact person and email me at greggillum@t-online.de. I hope we meet soon!

February 2019

The neighborhood

While making plans in Berlin to return for an internship in the fall of 2014, one of the big challenges was to find a place to live. I thought that ideally, I could find an apartment near our Kreuzberg-Mitte congregation; however, no one expected that I would find a place that close to any of our three churches in this corner of popular Kreuzberg. But during a final outing for our language class, my instructor asked me about my fall plans. I confided my excitement along with my concerns about housing – where she then told me something surprising: She owned a small, renovated apartment on Dieffenbachstraße in Kreuzberg. Her tenant had given notice and she would soon start looking for a new renter. Would I be interested? I visited the apartment with her and agreed to rent it in the fall.
 
Within Kreuzberg, Dieffenbachstraße ran parallel to the street where our Melanchthonkirche is located. On a good day, I could walk to church in 5 minutes. The location was a fantastic find and it seemed to confirm that I was where I needed to be. As I served my internship, I furnished my apartment with an eclectic mix from the big Swedish retailer and the occasional used furniture marked ‘zum Verschenken’ on the sidewalks. After completing the 1-year training, I wanted to remain in the apartment and area. I had begun sitting afternoons at the outdoor café along my street. The locale served a mix of Eritrean dishes along with burgers, the Berlin staple. And as my ability to walk distances became handicapped by hip dysplasia, the café became my regular Stammtisch. Sitting on the usual bench seat, I got to know the people living in the surrounding buildings and watch their families grow and visitors come and go. I was willingly recruited into many discussions requiring lots of coffee. I also offered confidential, chaplain support to neighbors in need. People who were now becoming my friends.
When I could not drive myself to important appointments, my neighbors made standing offers to drive me. When I would need something from the local grocery, a passing neighbor would often offer to pick it up for me. And just yesterday, the local pharmacist volunteered to personally pick up my prescriptions and return with my meds.
I had moved into this Kreuzberg neighborhood 4 years ago heeding the call to serve strangers in Berlin. Then I discovered two dozen friends along my street who, when circumstances were reversed, began answering their own calls to serve their neighbor when he was otherwise alone and unable to always care for himself. This is our little community. Pull up a chair, and welcome to the neighborhood!  

Greg Gillum

December / January 2018

Memories of Brigitte Brückmann

I first began my adventure with this church congregation just over four years ago. I had been invited to return to Berlin after graduating from Luther Seminary in the US and completing a Goethe Institut German language course in this city. Shortly after I arrived in the fall to start a year of internship with the pastor of the congregation, I had a chance to attend a Sunday worship service at St. Simeon-Kirche on Wassertorstraße. I recall seeing Brigitte’s husband Peter near the entrance as people gathered to greet each other after the long summer holiday period. He was welcoming several people and sending them up the winding staircase to the sanctuary. I slowly followed the crowd going up.
As I arrived outside the sanctuary doors, I noticed a woman giving directions and then stepping into a storage area to retrieve some items. In addition to being a busy helper for the morning’s service, it was already clear that Brigitte Brückmann was also a person of authority and knowledge. She knew ‘who needed what’ and all the tasks that each person was responsible for. As a stranger in a strange church (and land), I determined that Frau Brückmann would be a valuable resource for me.

I later learned from others some of Brigitte’s history with the St. Simeon congregation. She had been a member since she was confirmed; later she led the church council for decades.
As a member of the church council elected two years ago, I became a colleague of Brigitte. During tense discussions about the continuing fusion of our three former congregations – and about the future of the St. Simeon-Kirche itself - Brigitte Brückmann would strongly advocate for preserving some of the traditions of the church as well as advocate new ways that would preserve the St. Simeon-Kirche and allow people to still worship there. Looking back on the last four years, I have come to respect and value Brigitte – her great faith in Jesus Christ as well as her great determination that the Evangelische Kirche would continue to have a presence in the neighborhood. Her work bringing in and welcoming the Refugee Church (Flüchtlingskirche) to the St. Simeon-Kirche during the Syrian refugee crisis has brought hope, direction and support to thousands of refugees who have made Germany their new home.

As the faces, languages, and traditions around Kreuzberg continue to develop and change over time, Brigitte Brückmann knew that people still needed and craved access to God, Jesus and to each other through the focal point of the Simeon church. May we all be a blessing to our neighbors as Jesus taught us and as Brigitte lived her life in service for others. 

Greg Gillum (greggillum@t-online.de)

October 2018

DOWN THE STREET: CHECKPOINT CHARLIE AND THE WALL MUSEUM

As a high school student in the US until the early 1980’s, I studied the German language, which included a fair amount of reading and discussing of German and European history. Years earlier, I had a teacher from West Germany who introduced his young students to the German culture through music, songs and years’ worth of projector slides. During both sets of experiences, the history and unique situation of Berlin opened our eyes and minds to World War II and the ensuing Cold War. As we students eventually learned, if any single location could be the focal point of these eras, it was the city of Berlin.

Berlin was the capital of the Nazi Third Reich and, after the partition of Germany by the Allied Powers, so too was the old capital city divided into 4 sectors of control. And when the Soviets moved to stem the flow of people and trade out of their eastern sector, their military erected the Berlin Wall to then divide East and West Berlins. One of the locations where people and traffic could cross this border was Checkpoint Charlie.

The checkpoint was located between the US and the Soviet sectors and became recognized as a unique location where East met West – both figuratively and literally. Soon after the Wall was built, a building located just on the American side and next to Checkpoint Charlie became the site of the Wall Museum. The German founder of the museum wanted a museum “to be as close as possible to the injustice itself, where human greatness fully unfolds.” The Wall Museum not only became home to displays of escape vehicles, documents and photographs, but also a headquarters where plans were developed to help more refugees out of Soviet-controlled East Germany.

I share all this information because I highly recommend that visitors to Berlin take the opportunity to visit the Wall Museum and Checkpoint Charlie. The museum is open 365 days a year from 9am – 10pm at Friedrichstraße 43-45. Information and tickets are available online at www.mauermuseum.de/en/index.html Visitors to our congregation’s Jacobi-Kirche at 132-134 Oranienstraße are just a half kilometer east of the checkpoint and can either walk or take the buses across from the church directly there.

Speaking of our congregation, please be sure to look at the center section of this October edition of the Bote newsletter for a schedule of worship services, including events celebrating the October 31 anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Other special events such as concerts – plus regularly scheduled parish activities – are prominently featured in the Bote. But if your command of English is better than your German, please feel free to email me with any questions at greggillum@t-online.de

September 2018

One of Berlin‘s top landmarks: the Marienkirche

Welcome back to the English Corner of the Kreuzberg-Mitte congregation. If you are planning to or currently visiting Berlin this month, I would suggest including the Marienkirche in your sightseeing.
Located at the western end of Alexanderplatz in the old center of East Berlin, the Marienkirche (St. Mary’s Church) is part of the Evangelische Kirche (Protestant Church) of Berlin. The first church on the site was built in the years after the city was established in 1230. The Marienkirche is linked with the nearby Nikolaikirche, which was the Franciscan cloister and hospital that served the early city.
Skipping ahead to the 20th century, the Marienkirche was heavily damaged by Allied bombing during the Second World War and was restored relatively shortly afterward. It is located next to the Fernsehturm (Television Tower) built during the time of the East German regime. The church is now the only remnant of what remains of the old city core.
Among the many pieces of art from the Middle Ages, one of the oldest is the fresco called the Totentanz (Dance of Death). It was created in 1484 – a particularly harsh year when the plague killed many Berliners. The fresco is now behind glass and located inside the main entrance vestibule area. This year, there is construction around the main entrance and a side door is used in the meantime. I highly recommend walking near the raised dias to view the painted altarpiece and the spectacular white marble Kanzel (pulpit).

The Marienkirche is open to the general public in September until December every day from 10am – 6pm. It is an active church building and services take place on Sunday and throughout the week. I suggest checking their website at www.marienkirche-berlin.de.

Here in the Kreuzberg-Mitte congregation in September, in addition to our Sunday and other weekly services (listed in the middle of the Bote newsletter), the congregation and the public are also invited to the Jugendgebet (Youth Prayer) on September 30. Please see elsewhere in the Bote for details. In addition, I am giving a pre-notice that in October, several of our youth will be presenting a talk about their summer youth group experiences in Norway. Please check back in October for details!

May the Lord bless you and keep you in your comings and goings.

Greg Gillum (greggillum@t-online.de)

July and August 2018

Take a Day Trip and Visit Wittenberg!
Welcome back to the English Corner! Here in Berlin, we are moving from spring to summer and the weather has been getting quite warm. When visitors to Germany stay with me or plan a visit around the capital, I usually recommend they take a day trip and visit Wittenberg. For most people of the Lutheran faiths, the name Wittenberg is synonymous with the famous reformer of western Christian faith, Martin Luther. However, many people have not heard of the city / and while they have an interest in religion they may know relatively little about where the Reformation started or why.

For a crash course, here are the basics: The Reformation refers to the movement within the Roman Catholic Church that took place from 1517 to 1648 that in the end brought about the splitting apart and formation of new Christian (Protestant) denominations. Martin Luther was an Augustinian monk and university teacher who began to openly question the Church’s theology and its frequent sales of indulgences in order to finance the Vatican hierarchy in Rome. As part of his protest, Luther wrote letters, disputations and his famous 95 Theses to bring change within the Church. Over time, his life was threatened, he went into hiding, and there he translated the Old and New Testaments into a standardized German language, making it accessible to all people. Luther lived in Wittenberg during and after these events and the small city has become home to various memorials and museums connected with his life and work.
From Berlin’s Südkreuz train station, regional trains depart directly to “Wittenberg/Lutherstadt” and arrive about one hour later. Wittenberg is located south of Berlin and just over the border of Brandenburg in the state of Sachsen-Anhalt. Wittenberg has been a university town since the Middle Ages and is now home to a training seminary and research center for the Evangelische Kirche (Protestant Church). The train station is small, but is serviced by taxis, although you can also walk into town along the well-developed pedestrian path.

When guiding people or giving them suggestions when they travel to Wittenberg, I make three sightseeing recommendations: the Schlosskirche, the Asisi-Panorama, and the Lutherhaus.

The Schlosskirche was built in 1506 and is now famous as the site where Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door for the priests and townspeople to read and debate. Church services take place on Sunday mornings and the building is open to visitors throughout the week.

The Asisi-Panorama is a new exhibition that features a massive and dramatic 360 view of the bustling city of Wittenberg during the time of Luther. Both guided and self-guided tours are available.

Martin Luther and his wife Katharina von Bora lived in what had previously served as an Augustinian cloister. The multi-story building is now home to the largest museum in the world dedicated to the Reformation. It is also open throughout the week, with hours depending on the time of year.

For English or German-speaking visitors, I recommend one website for more information when planning your trip: lutherstadt-wittenberg.de. You can select either language and then view the same information and functions.

Back home in Berlin in the Kreuzberg-Mitte congregation, the month of July brings the celebrations of Thomas the Apostle on 3. July and James the Apostle on the 25. of the month. Many members of our congregation are now relaxing after having enjoyed a retreat together at the Youth and Encounter Centers in the town of Hirschluch in Brandenburg. Please look in this month’s Bote newsletter for great pictures and stories from their trip.

If you have questions concerning our congregation and prefer to communicate in English (or wish to try out your rusty German skills), please consider me your contact person. I will answer you either directly or forward your information to the appropriate person. Please contact me at greggillum@t-online.de. I look forward to hearing from you!

Gregory Gillum

June 2018

Hello and welcome back to the English Corner! This month, I would like to introduce you to a famous German landmark, the Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral). When friends come to Berlin, one of the first things they often mention wanting to see is the Dom - and why not? It is an impressive and imposing church which, since its last reconstruction, now rivals the Renaissance and baroque styles of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

The Berliner Dom was first built on the island in the Spree River to serve the Hohenzollern dynasty, which had built a city castle there. The church was rebuilt several times over the centuries and, during the time of the last Prussian kings, took on its current form to became one of the most recognized Protestant churches in the world.

Nowadays, the Dom retains its original purpose as a parish church and worship services take place throughout the week. In addition, the Berliner Dom hosts a variety of regularly scheduled music performances as well as special concerts through the year. However, to experience the majesty of the building, most visitors take one of the museum-type tours, which I highly recommend along with the large gift shop. During the warmer months, cafes open up around the area and tourists flock here to the Museuminsel (Museum Island) to visit the many famous museums located here. More information is available in English at www.visitberlin.de/en/berlin-cathedral and in German at www.berlinerdom.de

In our Kreuzberg-Mitte congregation in June, we will be celebrating several church holidays, including Tag der Geburt Johannes des Täufers (Birth of John the Baptist) on 24. June and Tag der Apostel Petrus und Paulus (Apostles Peter and Paul) on 29. June. Please see the center section of the June Bote newsletter for our worship services and times.

If you have any questions or comments concerning our congregation and prefer to communicate in English, please consider me your contact person. I will answer you directly or forward your information to the appropriate person. I can be reached at greggillum@t-online.de. Let’s talk soon!

Gregory Gillum

May 2018

Welcome back to the English Corner! I am your contact person and springtime tour guide, Greg Gillum. Well actually, I am not a tour guide; however I would like to recommend a church-related tour organizer for those interested in seeing important and lesser-known churches, memorials and previously unknown treasures of Berlin. CROSS ROADS is a city tour service for individuals and groups who desire walking, bicycle and bus trips through the many various church-related locations in and around the city.

CROSS ROADS offers prescheduled guided tours of different areas or unique themes throughout the year. In addition, they organize accommodations, tour transportation and special access for groups wanting to plan and see specific aspects or locations in Berlin. The organization offers day and weekend programs with professional guides who speak English and German. Other languages are also available. Cross Roads is a project of our Kirchenkreis (church district) and more information is available at crossroads-berlin.com.

Here in the Kreuzberg-Mitte congregation, we are looking forward to celebrating two church holidays this month: Christi Himmelfahrt (Ascension Day) on Thursday, 10. May and Pfingsten (Pentecost) on Sunday, 20. May. Please see the center section of the Bote newsletter for times and locations. We also anticipate the one-year anniversary of our burgeoning Pfadfindertruppe (Scouting troop) and their festivities at Jacobi Kirche on Saturday, 5. May. Copies of the Bote are available in front of the three Kreuzberg-Mitte churches - as well as our online homepage.

If you have any questions or comments concerning our congregation and prefer to communicate in English (or wish to try out your German skills), please consider me your contact person. I will answer you directly or forward your information to the appropriate person. I can be reached at greggillum@t-online.de. I look forward to meeting you soon!

Gregory Gillum

April 2018

Hello and welcome to the Evangelische Kirchengemeinde in Kreuzberg-Mitte (Protestant Church congregation of Kreuzberg-Mitte) in Berlin!

This message is written in English for our many visitors who discover or read online about our congregation‘s three churches in Berlin, but who do not speak German very well - or at all. My name is Greg Gillum and I am an American who has lived in Berlin the last four years. I am a member of the Kreuzberg-Mitte congregation and a member of our church council.

People from around the world visit Berlin and discover our two historic red-brick churches, St. Jacobi-Kirche at Oranienstraße 133 and St. Simeon-Kirche at Wassertorstraße 21a - and our 1950‘s style church building, the Melanchthon-Kirche at Planufer 84. Yes, we are blessed with three full-size church buildings thanks to our decision to fuse our predecessor congregations several years ago.

In the middle fold of the monthly newsletter, the Bote, you will find a listing of our weekly and special worship services, including locations and times. We are especially pleased to host Germany‘s first Flüchtlingskirche (Refugee Church) located in the front of the St. Simeon-Kirche, which was established to serve the waves of new asylum-seekers from the Syrian and Middle-Eastern refugee crisis.

Please consider me your contact person for any questions or requests you may have about the Kreuzberg-Mitte church congregation. While I can often be found in person at various services throughout the month, feel free to contact me anytime via email. We can converse in English (or any level of German) to assist you. The current and recent Bote issues are also available on our homepage I look forward to meeting you in person or online.

Gregory Gillum