Holy harbour on the banks of the Havel river


The Sacrower Heilandskirche celebrates its 175th church festival. For decades it decayed in no man’s land. The Tagesspiegel also helped to save her.

Father Gerhard Rütenik had already entrusted so many couples to the care of God in the Sacrow Heilandskirche, but this one wedding was something special, the most touching he experienced there: The bridegroom high in the eighties, the small staircase in front of the house of God he only laboriously mastered, but despite his walking stick he proudly refused any help; the bride only a few years younger and like him determined to finally make up for what the time runs had denied them more than half a century ago, back in the spring of 1945.

The wedding ceremony in the Heilandskirche was firmly planned, but then the Russians stood before the door. She fled as far as the Black Forest, he himself, a young, very young looking soldier could get rid of his uniform, escape the deportation. He followed the bride by bicycle, crossed the occupation zones unhindered, all the way to the Black Forest. There they got married, only civil, without the ecclesiastical blessing, which the couple did not want to receive anywhere, but only under the starry sky of the Heilandskirche. That was impossible for decades, the church was located in the restricted area of the border to West Berlin, opposite Schloss Glienicke, inaccessible – and in any case almost a ruin. But now it should be, as fast as possible, at such a high age there is not much time left.

One of the many stories about the church commissioned by Frederick William IV and built by Ludwig Persius, which Father Gerhard Rütenik knows how to tell and which he is allowed to tell particularly often these days, is one of the many stories about the church which is celebrated once again on this Sunday, a very special one: Exactly 175 years ago it was consecrated “S. Ecclesiae sanctissimi Salvatoris in portu sacro”, the “Church of the Holy Redeemer to the Holy Harbour” – so the correct name – in the presence of the court. The “sacro” seems to refer to the place name Sacrow, which, however, has nothing sacred about it, is of Slavic origin and means “behind the bush” profanely.

Another such story that Gerhard Rütenik, officially “retired priest”, has at his disposal from his wide-ranging store of knowledge about the Heilandskirche, assisted by the sexton Regina Mollenhauer – two colleagues who are obviously enthusiastic about their task owed to the jubilee as well as about the church that anchored on the banks of the Havel River. Gerhard Rütenik’s retirement seems to be relative anyway, since he regularly performs baptisms and weddings on behalf of the Potsdam Pentecostal Church, to which the Heilandskirche belongs, thus supporting parish priest Stephan Krüger and has also played a part in today’s celebration. And especially as far as weddings and baptisms are concerned, the church is very popular, there are on average 70 of them per year, this year there are already 40, as the sexton reports.

The first glance of the visitor: Up to the starry sky

But there the priest is again with the next story: “Do you know how many little stars there are…” On the church ceiling, apart from the vault above the sanctuary, it is exactly 2048. The number itself is insignificant, the abundance of stars by no means. Involuntarily, the visitor’s gaze turns upwards to heaven, to God, so to speak, he explains. And outside the small stairs down to the river, yes, the king took it when he came in the ship, but from there the water for baptisms was and is fetched. The place was not only a beautiful, idyllically situated building, but, as the king wanted it to be, a “Christian landmark”, behind everything there was a “theological basic idea”.

Of course there is also a lot of Italy behind it. Even as crown prince Friedrich Wilhelm IV had travelled to Tuscany and Rome in 1828, which further inspired his dream of a “Prussian Arcadia”. Early on he had in mind a new church for the temporarily churchless Sacrow, and as king he had the opportunity to acquire the Sacrow estate and commission Persius to build it. He made the first sketches himself – a church “in Italian style with a campanile beside it”, as Persius noted in the construction diary.

He was by no means only the executor of the royal wishes, they had mutually enriched each other with ideas, Father Rütenik describes the relationship between builder and master builder. The result was a work of architectural art with columned arcades reminiscent of a three-nave basilica, situated on a small headland, on a bay where the Havel fishermen sought shelter during a storm. This, too, was certainly a welcome symbolism of the church resting on a technically demanding and expensive pile foundation – directly on the shore, partly protruding into the water, from which distinctive reflections emerge.


About Author

Mette Frederiksen is a The Washington Newsday correspondent. With her coverage of general science, NASA and the interface between technology and society, Frederiksen has been in the Science Desk's Technology Beat since joining Washington Newsday in 2018.

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