Container-size church means hope in Berlin
Oct. 19, 2005
|A UMNS photo by Kathleen LaCamera
Volunteer Matthais Amling helps teenager Julia Safert with her homework at the Church in the Container.
By Kathleen LaCamera*
BERLIN (UMNS) — White City is a place where a legacy
of conflict dating back to the 1930s still intrudes into every day life.
This area of Oranienburg, a
suburb of Berlin, still has as many as 2,000 unexploded bombs — dropped during
World War II — buried beneath its surface. Nicknamed “White City” because of its
sprawl of uniform white block apartment buildings, the area was also home to
Soviet soldiers during the Cold War when Oranienburg was part of what was then
When communist rule ended,
Russian soldiers left White City in ruins, taking as much as they could with
them, even plumbing pipes and window frames. It is here that the Rev. Heinrich
Meinhardt, a United Methodist pastor, and his congregation have created a church
that literally fits into a large container.
“A group of my church members
had been meeting in this area as a house group for three years,” explained
Meinhardt, who also pastors the United Methodist Lindenkirche in another Berlin
neighborhood about 12 miles away. “When they started to discuss whether they
should build a church, I said, ?The only reason to start a new church is if we
also have a social project as our focus.’”
There is no shortage of social
problems to address in White City. Alcohol and drug abuse are pervasive among
youth and adults. Children and young people have no communal spaces in which to
play or meet. Groups with both extreme right- and left-wing political agendas
are active here. A history of Nazi and then Soviet rule has contributed to a
situation where less than 10 percent of the community has any relationship to a
So when Oranienburg’s mayor,
Hans Joachim Laesicke, suggested the new church do something to help children
and young people, Meinhardt and his house group seized upon the challenge.
That was six years ago. Today,
a bright yellow structure housing the Evangelisch-methodistiche Kirche im
Container (which translates “Church in the Container”) provides holiday and
after-school arts and crafts activities, sports, dance classes, worship, Bible
study and community outreach.
Children wander in after school
looking for help with “Hausaufgaben” or homework. Teenagers meet their friends
for a chat and a piece of cake. Mothers bring their small children to play on
the adjacent outdoor playground, built with funds donated by United Methodists
in the denomination’s North Georgia Annual (regional) Conference, the United
Methodist Women of Marietta, Ga., and a children’s Sunday school class in
Meinhardt came up with the idea
of using a container. “There were no buildings for rent in the area, and a
container was all we could afford at the time,” he recounted.
The physical space inside the
container includes one central meeting/activity area, a closet-size office, a
storage area and a bathroom. While admitting the space is cozy, Meinhardt
pointed out that the container project’s support from the United States and
Canada, as well as Germany, makes the United Methodist Church in the Container a
real “global piece of our church.”
His colleague, Hanna Franzke,
is the full-time director for the Church in the Container’s youth project. Over
the past six years, the church’s youth and children work has received support
from several United Methodist agencies, including the boards of Church and
Society, Discipleship and Global Ministries.
Franzke has lived in
Oranienburg all her life. She worked with pre-school and then orphaned children
before joining the container project. When she was named the youth project
director, a local paper ran the headline, “Sie ist so cool” ? “She is so cool.”
“I worry about the youth here
because they are very hopeless and helpless. It’s important that they see there
is more to life than drinking and consuming,” Franzke said. “What is important
is to get in contact with youth and kids and to start to work with families.”
Heiko Hohenhaus of the
Märkische Allegemain newspaper noted that many societal changes have
occurred in eastern Germany. “These changes have made people very insecure,” he
Hohenhaus has been reporting on
the Church in the Container since he first heard about it four years ago. The
church works in partnership with local groups and receives some financial
support from local government. The mayor sees the work here as an effective way
of addressing problems that stretch across several generations
“One of the big problems is the
parents’ generation. We have parents who don’t see any future for themselves and
see their children as a problem for their life,” Laesicke told United Methodist
News Service. “Many people with low income and social problems moved into this
area. There are gangs here. We need an alternative for young people. ? We can
see that the Church in the Container is much accepted.”
“Most of my friends are here.
It’s a place to meet,” said teenager Bianca Klingenberg. She and her sister
Anika, particularly enjoy taking part in the Silver Dancers disco group that
regularly practices at the Church in the Container.
“Some people are very distant
from the church and have a prejudice about believing in God, but they come here
and see it can be different,” she explained.
Twenty-year-old Matthias Amling
has been volunteering at the Church in the Container for the past year. He
reported that he has done everything from playing hours of volleyball with local
children to having deep conversations about theology and national politics with
young people. What he has enjoyed most is feeling like he can make a positive
|A UMNS photo by Kathleen LaCamera
The Church in the Container provides ministries for students as well as families.
“My favorite thing is helping
with homework. It’s a great feeling when I can help someone,” Amling said.
“For some, it’s awkward to be
in a church building,” Franzke explained. “They ask about what I believe. They
ask deep questions about death and life and life after death. They ask about
being Methodist. They haven’t heard of it before.”
The Church in the Container has
endured difficult times. When it opened, some in the community said they didn’t
want another church. The area already had two Baptist churches, one Lutheran
church and a Catholic church.
In 2001 and again in 2005,
parts of the playground were vandalized, and graffiti including the words, “Kill
the filthy Christians” was spray-painted on the container. No culprits were ever
identified, but the incidents led many in the larger White City community to
voice support for the church and outrage over the damage done to it.
“In the beginning, the
community thought the Church in the Container was a sect and worried their kids
were being seduced,” said Uwe Wedel, president of the local civic club. “Now
they have accepted it and see the yellow container as a signature presence in
The congregation wants to build
a bigger, all-purpose space close by the current site that will host a larger
range of programs and worship events. The congregation has already raised more
than $56,000 to buy the land but will need to find more to realize its dream.
Wedel hopes the new building
will encourage more people to take part in activities there. He also hopes the
well-known signature bright yellow container will in some way be a part of
whatever comes next.
More information about the
Church in the Container is available by contacting
firstname.lastname@example.org via e-mail.