Bonhoeffer’s Berlin

Today, April 9th 2015, marks the 70th Anniversary of the execution of the famous German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, sentenced to death by Hitler for his role in the German resistance movement. Through his actions and writings Bonhoeffer called for Christian involvement in the secular world.Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” His statue is one of ten modern martyrs, unveiled in July 1998, which stand above the west entrance to Westminster Abbey.


Berlin has an almost mythical reputation as the city with a murky past and a cool present. Sightseeing tours advertise the Infamous Third Reich, the Story of Jewish Berlin, the Stasi and the Berlin Wall. There are pub and club crawls, visits to avant-garde galleries and trips to underground bunkers. So here is something with a more spiritually uplifting yet sobering theme – a tour of the Berlin sites associated with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a man who stood up for what he believed in and who chose to stay in Germany to resist evil.


The Dietrich Bonhoeffer Berlin tours are organised by ‘Theoarts’, or to be precise, a theologian and teacher called Ralf Herold whose aim is to depict Bonhoeffer’s life and philosophy in a challenging but entertaining way. He is familiar with every detail of Bonhoeffer’s biography and his tours are packed with engaging anecdotes as well as sound knowledge. The Bonhoeffers moved to Berlin in 1915 from Breslau and first lived at 14, Wangenheimstrasse, Dahlem. Dietrich studied at the Humboldt University in Berlin and was ordinated at the St Matthäus Kirche in the Kulturforum in 1931. He was also active at the Zionskirche in the working-class neighbourhood of Prenzlauer Berg where there is now a bronze statue to commemorate him.


He was imprisoned in Tegel in 1943 and later taken to the Gestapo Headquarters, which is now the site of the Topographie des Terrors. Grey gravel marks out the prisoners’ cells. It was here at New Year in 1945 that Bonhoeffer wrote his famous poem, ‘Von guten Mächten wunderbar geborgen’ (‘By loving forces silently surrounded’).


“Here were the cells of the Gestapo Headquarters”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was arguably the most influential of all German citizens who resisted the Nazi regime because his ideas have lived on, especially in the Protestant Church. If you are interested in following up the theme of ‘Resistance’ when you visit Berlin, please refer to pages 195-199 in ‘Berlin Unwrapped’. For further information on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I can recommend an excellent article in the New York Review of Books, October 2012. More photos of Dietrich Bonhoeffer sites in Berlin can be found by following this link at the International Bonhoeffer Society.

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