Saturday, October 04, 2008


In addition to Saint-Ansgar-Kirche and Englische-Kirche, four remaining Hamburg churches are also located only yards away from the great Saint-Michaelis-Kirche, whose giant tower completely dominates this area of Hamburg. All four are Seemannskirchen (Seamen’s Churches). Fittingly, all four Seemannskirchen are situated on the street that directly connects the grounds of Saint-Michaelis-Kirche with The River Elbe.

Hamburg’s Seemannskirchen were created to meet the spiritual needs of Scandinavian sailors and their families in what has long been one of the world’s great port cities. Only one of the four church buildings survived the Second World War relatively unscathed. The other three churches—which occupy three adjoining properties—saw their structures destroyed during the war and had to erect new buildings in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

The oldest and largest of the Seemannskirchen, right on the waterfront, is the Swedish Gustav-Adolf-Kirche, which opened in 1906. Gustav-Adolf-Kirche occupies what appears to be a large office building with a steeple on top—and that is more or less what the building represents.

The church itself occupies a portion of the second story of the building. The rest of the building is devoted to office space, recreational facilities, guest rooms and food services. The church is a virtual home-away-from-home for Swedish sailors laid up in Hamburg, and includes every possible convenience and service. We visited the interiors of the building one weekday and examined the church’s sacred spaces, all of which were very Wilhelmine indeed, just like the building’s exterior. The staff members on the day we visited, all Swedish, were exceedingly gracious, and they even tried to feed us—twice!

The Danish Sailors’ Church was erected in 1951, and its exterior looks exactly like many 1950’s churches in the Upper Midwest, vaguely representative of what was then considered to be the height of modern ecclesiastical architecture.

The interior of the church was much more interesting. The large chapel, paneled in a variety of rich woods of different colors, textures and shapes, was splendid. The high, vaulted ceiling had unusual proportions and unusual angles, and the window glass and the light fixtures were striking, original and beautiful—as well as timeless (and not irresolutely and irredeemably 1950’s, thankfully). The Danish staff members were gracious, too, and welcomed us heartily.

The Norwegian Sailors’ Church next door was built in 1957. It, too, is an unmistakable product of 1950’s ecclesiastical architecture.

We were unable to visit the interior of the Norwegian Sailors’ Church, as the building is open only for scheduled services.

The Lutheran Finnish Sailors’ Mission next door was built in 1966 and occupies what appears to be a bland and unremarkable office building. One would never know that a chapel is contained within such an entirely indistinctive structure. The Lutheran Finnish Sailors’ Mission is much like the Swedish Gustav-Adolf-Kirche, providing a comprehensive array of services for Finnish sailors and their families, whether they be in Hamburg on permanent or temporary bases. We visited the Lutheran Finnish chapel, a plain but dignified sacred space. During our visit, the Finnish staff members were hosting a large party for children of Finnish sailors stationed in Hamburg, and they told us about the many services offered by the Lutheran Finnish Sailors’ Mission. They, too, were welcoming and gracious to us—and they even tried to feed us, too!

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