If your name is Zach, and you live with me, you would be aware of my obsession with the church down the street.
This round church was built between 1892 and 1894 and belongs to the Protestant Evangelisch denomination. The shape of the building is what makes it most unusual. Until this time churches all had the similar “Catholic” style, however in the late 1800’s Wiesbaden’s Protestant population saw enormous growth and therefore, wanted their own look while they built new churches. This includes making sure everything liturgical, the altar, pulpit, etc., is to be fully visible from all viewpoints of the congregation. In Ringkirche, the Pfarrer can also see all points of the congregation when preaching from the pulpit due to the round room. The pews also sit on a slight amphitheater style slope, again so no one’s view is obstructed.
The church is actually built “backwards” in that the main entrance is not on the main street, Rheinstraße. The view of the two towers, clock and glass doors we see coming up Rheinstraße is the back of the church, though it looks like the typical front facade of a church. This is because the architect wanted a more impressive view for those coming from town up the main road; however according to Christian theology the altar must be located in the eastern part of the building. East, in this case, is Stadtmitte Wiesbaden and it would not make sense to have the congregation enter the building from behind the altar, so the architect adapted and built the church as it would fit in the space.
At the time the church was built, the Ring Road was the border between city and farmland. We know this is where the church gets its name, “Ringkirche,” because it sits on the “ring” road, Kaiser-Friedrich-Ring. Also known as Bundesstraße 54 and Bismarckring.
This building is frequently shown in my pictures from our balcony/roof because it’s such a large presence on our street. I like to take “eery” pictures using tricks of light and cloud and sometimes I just like the nice little frame it makes (mostly) on the left of my sky pictures.
Up close, there is a lot of detail in the stonework at the edge of the roof and walls and around the windows. The towers also have several peaks built in to give an illusion of more height. This architectural style is known as Romanesque Revival. I like the “frillies” around the edges of the peaks and windows.
Ringkirche is a fantastic model. Whether or not the light is perfect or the sky is rainy I can always get a dreamy shot or two (or 178).
What I really, really, love though are the bells. The bells fulfill a dream of mine of hearing bells all over town, á la Disney movies. I had totally over-romanticized Europe and its bells, thinking the bakers start baking bread at the first ring, everyone takes a break at noon, farmers come in from the fields at 7, etc. But this church delivers in filling some of that vision. I have my favorites among the individual bells from the tower but also the different songs they play, depending on day, time of day, if there’s a holiday, etc. I feel like there must be 3 or 4 bells up there but they aren’t visible from the street.
My favorite bell moments
19:00 everyday: the ringing for Vespers. I try to make it home before this time so while I’m chopping veggies for dinner I can listen to this roughly 6 minute pele.
Here’s a sample from this time of day:
12:00 everyday: I usually only hear this one on the weekends, and even then generally only Saturdays due to being out and about the other days.
Easter Vigil/Easter Morning: in our first apartment in Germany, we were in a Hinterhof and fairly isolated from noise and had no idea the sounds that would occur in Germany on this day/night. All the churches around Wiesbaden ring their bells at dawn for 10 minutes or so, and this past year Ringkirche seemed to celebrate several Easter Vigil services throughout the night, with the 3am celebration being particularly jarring to wake up to.
Here is a sample from Easter 2016, with MallieCat squeaking in the background. Intertwined with Ringkirche are other churches from the city, but the deep bells are definitely Ringkirche.
In general, the bells follow a schedule, but on occasion they ring out longer peales. Sometimes, they don’t ring at all, even on the hours and quarter-hours. Some holidays also seem more important for the bells as well. I count on the bells to keep me on schedule when I’m at home, and I just really miss them even if I’m relaxing and don’t need to be anywhere. Because we are up so high, our apartment reverberates with their sounds and if one of us has to be on the phone during one of these times, sometimes it just makes more sense to hang up and call back when it’s over.
But my curiosity around the bells had reached a point where I needed to find out more, and maybe I would actually go inside the building to see what the interior was like. I finally decided to take a trip over to Ringkirche to find out more.
I would first like to thank Herr Pfr. Ralf-Andreas Gmelin and Pfr. Stefan Reder for answering my initial emails and questions, and Herr Hans Kielblock, the church Kantor (choir master) and organist, for being so kind to take time out of his day to show me around and answer another hundred, overly excited questions from me. I appreciate the time they all made for this little project.
Hans met me at the steps by the glass doors during our lunch hours. He has been the church organist for 11 years now and so is quite familiar with the building and history.
First, the interior of the nave. I haven’t been inside too many round buildings, and I loved this experience. The slope of the pews becomes apparent once I adjusted to the round walls perspective. The windows up above let in so much light, I would imagine electric lights aren’t needed outside of winter. The ceiling is domed with a glass top. The galleries appear to be held up by these delicate pillars, but really these are far too thin to support them. Instead, the galleries are supported by steelworks running along the walls as well as “tension rods” in between. The thin pillars also help to keep the view of the congregation clear and unobstructed.
The altar…so incredibly stunning. There’s a lot of color up here and I personally have never seen a pulpit directly center and behind the altar. Usually I see them off to the side. Hans told me that years ago the pews used to come right up to the raised area, however this did tend to crowd so now they are pushed back.
Then we went upstairs. I cannot tell you how excited I was to be up there. We saw off in the distance the dome ceiling over the nave. The steel gates in front of this section used to be where the back glass doors are now, but they were replaced 20 years ago to give the congregation some quiet from the street and an actual gathering room protected from the elements. Now they are up here to provide a little safety.
Then it was upstairs again via a series of spiral staircases. When we reached the next floor, I knew exactly what I was seeing due to the shape of the windows, even if it was too bright to see out of them right away. We were now just under the towers, level with the clock. At one point the church members noticed some falcons or hawks who were hanging around the building so they built them a little box they could call home. This was fascinating to me because I have seen these hawks, but had no idea where they could possibly be living.
Then again, another spiral staircase where we are now right in the towers. The views up here are slightly obscured to prevent birds from flying in, but provided such a unique view of Wiesbaden. I could also see my house from here 🙂
Usually I think my balcony shows a pretty great view of Wiesbaden, but I have to admit this was impressive. I think this town is so pretty.
And then, finally, the bells.
There are indeed three of them and they are rung with mechanic chains and pulleys. They do ring on the quarter hour, on an automatic schedule, however there is a switch downstairs near the other light switches which allows for special peals, such as on Easter. There are also special peals at noon and 19.00 (for Vespers) to remind everyone to take a moment, for prayer or meditation, or to stop work and head home. There “should” be a 6am peal as well but as this is such a densely populated neighborhood, the church does not ring them at this time. I have to say, I appreciate that.
I asked about the times I miss hearing the bells. Hans said there were a series of mechanical issues and failures over the past year which have now been solved. The dawn bells I hear at Easter are a coincidence. Ringkirche has a 6am service and during the reading of the Resurrection from the Gospel, the bells begin to ring and continue through the end of the reading. It’s not a timed science, as each Gospel has a slightly different version and length, plus it does take some time to get them swinging. So when they happen at dawn, it’s a happy accident.
I also asked if it was normal to have bells throughout the night on Easter Vigil, such as this year. The answer, in short, is no. What actually happened was there was another denomination using the building for their services, which lasted all night. They worshipped in the dark so when it was over, someone located what they thought was the lightswitch, which instead turned out to be the switch to start the bells on their holiday peal. Luckily, one of the Pfarrers lives close by and was able to quickly get over to the church and help them out.
I was so happy I was able to see them so close. I don’t really know why I feel so connected to them and this building but it was nice to have this time up here.
One of the bells is inscribed with this:
Translated to “In remembrance of those who fell between 1914-1918.” During WWI, church bells across Germany, and probably across Europe, were made of bronze. These were needed to create cannonballs and so they were taken down and melted. After the war, the bells were replaced with steel replicas. Today it would be quite rare to see a bronze bell in Germany, but Hans tells me the differences in sound make it quite sad that we don’t have anymore made of bronze. The tones and sounds are much different, perhaps better, than the steel.
Up another spiral staircase, and now we are “in” the towers. Hans showed me his favorite spot, a balcony that faces the front of the church.
He also showed me where he once thought of having his office, and while I agree that the organist should have an office in a church tower, this room was pretty stuffy, and it wasn’t even a hot day. The real issue is how freezing he would be in the winter. Here is one of the windows in the room to show how thin and unprotected they are.
At this point it’s 11:55, so we go back down the two staircases and cross the room to an old ladder. We climb up this, right underneath the smallest bell, and find ourselves in the middle of all of them. Hans explains the quarterly and hourly tones are done with a hammer on the middle bell, seen in the bottom two pictures. The hammer started and the floor vibrated during all 12 rings.
I had noticed at home that the noon and 19.00 longer bells begin about 6 minutes later, and indeed, at 12:06 a chain comes to life, some creaking happens, and the largest bell begins to swing. After roughly 6 full swings, the first chime is struck. Hans was much smarter than I, and plugged his ears (those arguable, his ears are more valuable than mine), but I couldn’t plug my ears and take the videos below, plus I really wanted the full experience.
To see both videos, click on the hamburger button on the top left:
The floor shakes, the metal support structures are moving and making alarming creaking noises, and I can feel the towers around us sway a bit. This is both exhilarating and a bit scary! Normally at home, when the bottom door to the street slams and it shakes our apartment, I feel a bit tense. However here, with the air literally vibrating with sound, I feel myself sway a bit in time as well. It was like being absorbed into the sound waves themselves. I’m not sure if everyone feels so connected to bells like I do, but I’ll tell you that this was a huge highlight of my month.
So, once the bells have ended, it’s time to descend. On the way down I take a closer look at the clock, which used to light up which was nice on walks at night, but at the moment it’s been dark for several months. On the first upper floor again, we walk through the gates over a very narrow wooden plank over to the top of the dome. The glass windows used to be able to open, through chains that run to the bottom floor, however they are so old now there is concern they would break or not be able to close again. At this point, we are 20m above the bottom floor.
There’s a lot of English graffiti up here. This is from the US soldiers who used the building (as a church) right after WWI. The rest is from the various workers who have been up here to restore, repair or inspect.
Finally, a last view of the back, which is known as the Reformation Room. On the left side are the portraits of the great Calvinist influencers on German Protestantism. On the right are the Lutherans. There were going to be statues of further thought leaders in those nooks however now they serve as display areas for art from the church itself.
And so my trip to Ringkirche came to an end. Please do go and visit, whether during services on Sundays at 10am or during the open church hours, Thursdays between 17.00 and 19.00, and Saturdays between 14.00 to 18.00. Definitely include it on your sightseeing list of Wiesbaden and walk all the way around to get some fabulous pictures. I will surely be posting more on Instagram and I’d love to see yours too!