St. Mary’s Church/ Marienkirche
"My dear Christian friends in East Berlin", with these words Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
begins his sermon on September 13, 1964 in the Marienkirche. Only a few days before no
one had guessed that the American Baptist Pastor and civil rights activist would actually
visit the eastern part of the city. Heinrich Grüber, Probst of the Marienkirche, invites
Martin Luther King jr in 1963 to East Berlin. Since the construction of the Wall in 1961,
Grübers entry into the GDR is denied, the Probst can only mediate the visit - he can not
participate. In 1963 the Marienkirche came into trouble because one of their pastors fled
from the GDR and the second priest got arrested from the STASI. Since the Marienkirche
suddenly becomes spiritual leadership, Gerhard Schmitt becomes superintendent
general for East Berlin by Bishop Otto Dibelius. Shortly before King's visit the church
leadership got in a fight and a cancellation of Martin Luther King's visit in East Berlin
stood in the room. As Schmitt reports, the chairman of the Church leadership in East
Berlin - probably from fear - didn't want to take responsibility for King.
Despite all warnings, the new General Superintendent Gerhard Schmitt decides - on his
responsibility - to held the event in the Marienkirche. Within just two days invitations are
submitted just through word-of-mouth propaganda. Invited At the entrance of the
Marienkirche is only a table with plug letters that announce the guest preacher. Already
hours before the start, people are pushing into the completely overcrowded church.
Martin Luther King jr reaches the Marienkirche around 8 pm. Manfred Krause (student at
the time): "We waited almost two hours in front of the Marienkirche. And then I was lucky
and came in. We came across the side entrance and I stood all the time, but I could see
King very well on the pulpit. [...] When King entered the church, everybody stood up and
clapped applause. It was a overwhelming atmosphere. "Schmitt first announces another
spontaneous worship in the Sophienkirche and begins the church service with the words:
"In front of God, there is no difference between blacks and whites. [...] We know of our
guilt as a German people. But we also have a special nerve for it to pay attention in our
community, if anywhere in the world people need to fight for their rights oder their
human dignity because of their skin color or even their faith."
Then Dr. King enters the pulpit and says, "My dear Christian friends of East Berlin, I want
to say what a great privilege and a great pleasure it is for me to come and share this
period of worship and fellowship with you this evening. [...] I I am happy to bring you
greetings from your Christian brothers and sisters of West Berlin, where I have just spent
a day in that community and certainly one of the most rewarding days of my life.
Certainly, I bring you greetings from your Christian brothers and sisters of the United
States. In a real sense we are all one in Christ Jesus, for in Christ there is no East, no West,
no North, no South, but one great fellowship of love throughout the whole, wide world.
May I say that it is indeed an honor to be in this city, which stands as a symbol of the
divisions of men on the face of the earth. For here on either side of the wall are God’s
children, and no man-made barrier can obliterate that fact. Whether it be East or West,
men and women search for meaning, hope for fulfillment, yearn for faith in something
beyond themselves, and cry desperately for love and community to support them in this
pilgrim journey. [...]
This is the faith I commend to you Christians here in Berlin. A living, active, massive faith
that affirms the victory of Jesus Christ over the world, whether it be an Eastern world or a
With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.
With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of the nations into a
beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to
pray together, to struggle together, to suffer together, to stand up for freedom together,
knowing that we will be free one day.”
Martin Luther King, Jr. speaks to the people in the shared city from the heart and gives
them a perspective. The STASI cuts the sermon of Kings speech on a tape. 2013 two
boxes of the speech from September 13, 1964 were inaugurated in the Marienkirche.
The Marienkirche was built in the course of the expansion of the town from 1250 in the
form of a Gothic hall church. Their first mention is documented in 1292. The church was
rebuilt several times over the centuries and received its present appearance (exterior
façade, floor ...) in the years 1893/94 by the architects Hermann Blankenstein. To the
peculiarities of the Marienkirche the dead dance fresco in the tower hall (founded around
1480) and the baroque pulpit, more than 30 angels (created in 1703) by Andreas Schlüter.
The American civil rights activist and Baptist pastor Martin Luther King, Jr. organized a
spontaneously church service in the evening of 13 September 1964 in the Sophienkirche.
King was in 1964 for two days in West-Berlin because of an invitation from the Governing
Mayor Willy Brandt and visited on 13 September 1964 also the eastern part of the
divided city. Since the Marienkirche at the Alexanderplatz was already crowded two hours
before the ecumenical service, the Generalsuperintendent of East Berlin Gerhard
Schmitt, organized a second service in the nearby Sophienkirche with the Nobel Peace
Prize laureate. Shortly after the announcement, the Sophienkirche was also filled to the
last place. The STASI report states that people stood in the side and middle passages as
well as at the exits and probably also in the court.
Firstly, church representatives report on their work in the World Church Council and
study trips through the USA. Many songs are sung. Martin Luther King enters the
Sophienkirche at around 9:25 pm. Film recordings prove that all visitors solemnly stood
up as King and Schmitt enter the church. The present hear the courageous words from
Kings: "It is truly an honor to be in this city, which stands as a symbol of divisions by
people on this earth. Because here live Children of God on both sides of the wall and no
man's hand can erase this fact. [...] This is the faith I have given you Christians here in
Berlin, a lively, active and great public faith ... In this belief we can get out of the
mountain of despair a stone of hope. In this belief we will work together, to pray with
one another, to struggle with each other, to be together for freedom and get up in the
certainty that one day we will be free ... ". Among the listeners are numerous students of
the Humboldt University with whom King speaks after the worship. The STASI informant
transmitted the words "Kings" in his own words and came to the realization that there
were no special occurrences. In his estimation "these services did not have the proper
character, but were probably due to the curiosity of a large part of the participants to the
person of Dr. Martin Luther King. "The service ended at 9:50 p.m.
Hotel Albrechtshof/ Hospiz
After the church service in the Sophienkirche has ended around 10 pm, Martin Luther
King, Jr. and the Pastor Ralph Zorn are driving tot he christian hospice (today Hotel
Albershof) in the Albertsstraße, near trainstation Friedrichstraße. Since the construction
of the berlin wall in 1961 the hospice is a popular meeting point for families and church
dignitaries from East and West.
The building is in the possesion oft he church as well, and thus relatively well protected
against possible espionage operations oft he Stasi. Yet the GDR secret servie is trying to
ebserve the object, as proven by a photo report. In the restaurant, important church
representatives oft he evangelical church are meeting up with King. Eventhough it was an
exhausting day, especially for King, which was, according to contemporary witnesses,
pretty noticable, the conversation takes place in a very loosened and cheerful
atmosphere. There are some snakcs and drinks.
Gesine Schuppen, born Schmitt: „I grabbed a card, that, according to my memory, was
laying on the counter, went inside and asked my dad: „Can I have an autograph?“ And
martin Luther King said: „Yes, gladly.“ And then Martin Luther King wrote down: Best
wishes, martin Luther King […]. But I didn`t stay too long and walked, beaming with joy
and happy, outside.
During the conversation all those present make an entry into the guestbook oft he
house. Among the guest are, inter alia, Gerhart Schmitt (General Superintendent East-
Berlin), Albrecht Schönherr (General Superintendent Eberswalde), Gerhard Brennecke
(Management director) and Fritz Figur (president oft he synode of Berlin-Brandenburg).
Just before midnight, Martin Luther King jr., Ralph Zorn and the community helper Dr.
Scott are getting back in the american limousine and leave east-Berlin through the
border crossing Checkpoint Charlie in the Friedrichstraße. They spend the night at the
guest house oft he senate in Grunewald and fly on the 14th of september 1964 to
Munich and to Rome, tot he Pope.
In memory and appreciation of Martin Luther King jr. the Hotel Albrechtshof designed a
devotional chapel that is named after the amercian Baptist minister and civil rights
activist. The chapel is located in the basement and is freely available for guests and
registration in the guestbook of the hotel in 1964/
Foto: archive of Siegfried Krüger
talk with contemporary withess in 2013 / king-code
service in Sophienkirche/ pic: archive of Siegfried Krüger
entry in Sophienkirche/ source: Bundesarchiv
St. Mary’s Church, sermon of M.L.King and R. Zorn (translator)
pic: archive of Siegfried Krüger
St. Mary’s Church / R.Dammann (l.), M.L.King,
G.Schmitt (r.) / pic: archive of Siegfried Krüger
students talks with contemporary withness in St. Mary’s
Church in 2013 / pic: king-code