Ansgari Churchyard

Ansgari Churchyard

Do you see that column there? The bronze column crowned by an open Bible, a ship’s hull and a cross? The one that commemorates Ansgar of Bremen, the “Apostle of the North”? Yes? Have you discovered it, the Ansgar column? Good, then close your eyes and blank out what surrounds you.

Blank out the pigeons that curr around you; the WIFI, which is free here; the people who sometimes hurriedly, sometimes leisurely cross the square. Blank out all that, and then – imagine a church! A hall church protected by three gable roofs, with wide walls and high ceilings, from which a huge tower covered with sandstone rises. And on top of the tower, you put a bell-shaped helmet, adorned with a steeply tapering spire that reaches far into the sky. So far that it towers above every other old town building, even the cathedral towers. And now – look at it! Look at how beautiful it is, the old St. Ansgarii Church. How magnificent, how sublime.

But where has it gone, you may ask. Where has the church gone where the first Protestant sermon was preached on Bremen soil? Where is the tower that the famous Carl Friedrich Gauss once climbed to survey the North German lands from the highest point in Bremen? And where the marble monument, on whose pedestal the holy Ansgar took the pagan yoke from the shoulders of a naked boy?

Where has all this gone, you want to know. I’ll tell you: It has been wiped off the face of the earth, the old St. Ansgarii Church. Built by human hands, destroyed by human hands. Back then, during the war, when bombs rained down on Bremen. When first, the church windows burst and cracks ate into the vault. When the earth shook more and more often under the church, and its walls crumbled. Then, when an explosive bomb crashed diagonally under the Ansgarii Tower and tore a deep hole in its foundation. When even no more support beams, no more prayers helped – and the brick-built giant finally fell to its knees.

With a rumble that whistled in the ears and enveloped in a dense cloud of dust, the Ansgarii Tower collapsed. It fell and buried under itself the church along with all the countless wishes, hopes and fears that it had absorbed overall these centuries.

After the war, the fate of the pride of Bremen, now lying in ruins, was uncertain for a long time:

Should its skeleton serve a reconstruction? Or should it rather be a memorial for future generations? Neither! Deprived of its protection status, the worthless ruin was razed to the ground. With excavators and jackhammers to make room. Space for a department store. For consumption. For oblivion.

Today, in the Ansgarii churchyard, where you are listening to my words, only that very column reminds you of the magnificent building that once adorned so many picture postcards, so many photo albums. But I will tell you something: In other places, you can still find remains of the old Ansgarii Church! Not many, but still a few. You just have to look for them!

Search in places like the Liebfrauenkirche, the Church of our Lady, which was also patched together with Ansgarii stones after the war. Or the Focke museum, which houses an ancient Ansgarii burial lid and an even older communion relief. But above all, look in Schwachhausen, where the new home of the Ansgarii faithful stands, and keep an eye out for the pulpit and the organ paneling, for the Margagreta bell and the weather vane. Search and find them – the last remnants of the old Ansgarii Church. The former Bremen landmark that has almost completely disappeared. But only almost.

Translated by Kevin Behrens