In Germany, Christianity--and Catholicism in particular--has been waning for fifty years. Many communities have closed churches and combined parishes as a result--there simply aren’t enough church-goers to fill the pews. But in Freiburg Im Breisgau, a German wine-country city of around 200,000 people, the forward-thinking Roman Catholic community has proposed another solution: a Doppelkirche, or “twin church,” shared with the city’s Protestant population.
Doppelkirchen have actually been around since the Reformation, when churches all over Germany were divided to accommodate newly reformed Protestants. But those Simultankirchen, as they’re also called, were shared mainly out of necessity. Maria-Magdalena Church, on the other hand, is the result of ecclesiastical leaders who actually elected to share space, back in 2004.
Maria-Magdalena sits on the outskirts of old Freiburg, in a rapidly developing area called Rieselfeld. The entire 6,500-square-foot building is clad in fair-faced concrete, popularized by Louis Kahn and Corbusier sixty years ago (Ronchamp, another thick-walled Roman Catholic icon, comes to mind). The elastic outer walls, which fold and pleat around the structure, are 16” of solid concrete at their widest. Kister Scheithauer Gross Architeketen explain that the church’s concrete facade is so thick, they didn’t need to spec insulation.
Like a traditional church, Maria-Magdalena has three naves. Freiburg is still a mainly Roman Catholic city, and the Catholic church takes up the full length of the middle nave. The Protestant church is smaller, oriented at the opposite end. The two flanking naves are occupied by smaller service rooms, and a raw timber roof “weaves” the spaces together.
The 24-foot-high concrete walls that divide the naves are built on motorized rails. Despite their huge weight--each wall weighs about 22 tons--they can be pushed back to create one large space. “Opened up, the large ecumenical room is brought into being,” write Kister Scheithauer Gross. Martin Luther would have been proud.