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East Germany Razes Landmark Church at Berlin Wall

January 22, 1985 GMT

BERLIN (AP) _ East Germany dynamited a landmark Lutheran church 10 yards from the Berlin Wall on Tuesday, giving Communist border guards a clear field of fire along the barrier.

Former parishioners gazed sadly from vantage points in the western sector as the big, red brick Church of Reconciliation collapit was an obvious effort to improve security along the wall by giving guards an open field of fire to prevent escapes.

East German workmen had removed the altar, chandeliers, brass bells and other church fittings in recent weeks before setting off the demolition charges.

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The high steeple swayed for several seconds after the dull thud of the blast, but it stayed upright as planned. West Berlin officials said they were told the pointed tower will be dynamited Feb. 12.

The spacious church was built in 1894 to hold more than 1,000 worshipers, and it became a landmark. It suffered heavy damage in World War II bombings but was restored and attracted many parishioners in the postwar years, 90 percent of them West Berliners.

All that changed in late August 1961 when the wall went up to keep East Germans from leaving for the West. The West Berlin parishioners were suddenly and irrevocably cut off from their church.

The Church of Reconciliation faced toward Bernauer Strasse, which became known as the ″saddest street in the world″ because of numerous escape attempts there that ended in death in the weeks after the wall went up.

Crosses have been erected along the street in memory of people who jumped to their deaths from apartment blocks, or were shot by East German guards while trying to escape elsewhere along the wall.

The apartment blocks were demolished by the East German government, and the church met the same fate, apparently because of its proximity to the 10-foot barrier.

Among the spectators who saw the church reduced to rubble were several West Berliners who belonged to the parish before it was closed.

A 50-year-old woman, who refused to give her name, wiped away tears as the structure fell. ″I was married in this church in 1954,″ she told a reporter.

The Rev. Reinhard Stawinski, a church spokesman in West Berlin, said Tuesday that razing ″a church rich in tradition is naturally a sad thing.″

The pastor said the church had become a ″symbol of division,″ but noted that that Christians in East Berlin had been promised a new church to replace it.

Despite the church’s isolated location in East Germany, the community of worshipers in West Berlin kept title to the property in hopes of arranging a replacement.

Last May, the West Berliners presented the deed to an East Berlin church commission. A deal then was worked out with Communist authorities under which the remaining parishioners in East Berlin were promised a new church and the state took title to the old church building.

West Berliners who followed the story said East Berlin’s outlying district of Hohenschoenhauen was designated as the site for the new church. The sources were unable to say whether the new church has opened already.