The Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, or Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächniskirche, was originally constructed in the 1890s as part of the Protestant church-building program started by Kaiser Wilhelm II and his wife Augusta Victoria. They hoped that the program would launch a return to traditional religious values, a move away from the labor and socialist movements that were prevalent at the time.
A competition was launched for the design of the church. The Neo-Romanesque design by Franz Schwechten was chosen as the winner. The original church had five spires and held the second biggest church bells in Germany. These bells were eventually melted down to make munitions during World War I.
The church was named in honor of Kaiser Wilhelm II’s grandfather, Kaiser Wilhelm I. The foundation stone was laid in March 1891, the birthday of Wilhelm I.
On the night of November 23, 1943, the church was extensively damaged during an allied air raid. However, one of the spires and much of the entrance hall survived, along with the altar and baptistry.
After the war in 1947, plans were developed to rebuild the church. Arguments over what the reconstruction should entail raged until the late 1950s. At one point, the argument swayed towards tearing down the remaining spire and building a completely new structure.
Luckily, public outcry at the idea saved the spire, with the remains of the damaged spire and the ground floor now acting as a memorial hall. It commemorates Berlin’s determination to rebuild after the war. The jagged remains of the church spire now tower over the modern shopping district of Ku’damm and Tauentzienstraße below.
The church is affectionately nicknamed “der hole Zahn” by Berliners which means, “the hollow tooth” referring to the look of the damaged main spire. The church also holds the Stalingrad Madonna, an image of the Virgin Mary drawn by a German soldier in 1942 during the Battle of Stalingrad.