SoundSpaceZion – Zionskirche Berlin

Putting sound and space together

The architect responsible for the Zionskirche, August Orth, was just as interested in the soundscape he was creating as he was in the church space. During his work on the design of the church, he also did intensive research on architectural acoustics. Just as the broad expanse of the church’s cupolas visually appeal to the transcendental, so the resonance and reverberation created by the church’s interior is an auditory expression of the sacred. Sound and space are inseparably interwoven together in the Zionskirche. Yet one of these two dimensions has been absent since the church’s original organ fell victim to the Second World War.

A vision for the space

With the joint project by the Protestant parish of am Weinberg and the Förderverein Zionskirche e.V. (the Zionskirche development association), SoundSpaceZion, we intend to bring sound and space back together again. Our vision is one of a space for experimental devotional music, a centre for contemporary spiritual music with the radiant power to reach out nationally and internationally. The project foresees a restoration of the church space, preserving the marks and scars of history as a memorial to the events that created them, combined with the construction of a new organ designed especially to meet the needs of contemporary musicians.

A chronicle of upheaval

The Zionskirche is intimately connected with recent German history. Built between 1866 and 1873 and consecrated in the presence of Kaiser Wilhelm I and Otto von Bismarck, it was at the centre from the very start in dealing the social problems that affected a city in breakneck expansion through rapid industrialization. The renowned Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who conducted confirmation classes at the Zionskirche, felt bound to grapple with the strained social circumstances of his charges. In the autumn of 1987, the church became the focus of history as the opposition Umwelt-Bibliothek (environmental library) housed in the parochial house was forcibly cleared by the East German Stasi, inspiring a storm of protest that was to become a beacon of the civil rights movement in the GDR. Today the parish, once one of the city’s most notoriously run-down working class districts, has become a desirable residential neighbourhood that now faces the problems of gentrification, though the area is bounded on one side by one of the starkest social barriers in Germany, directly along the line where the Berlin Wall used to stand.

For an organ ready for the 21st century and for the restoration of the church interior

A building with history etched into it

Gravely damaged during the Second World War, the basic structure of the Zionskirche was saved by the bare minimum of provisional conservation measures taken at the beginning of the 1950s. Nevertheless, the poor economic performance of the GDR and its political leadership’s hostility to the church meant continued decay for the building, despite the efforts and commitment of a number of parishioners. Since the beginning of the 1990s there have been a number of important initiatives to preserve the structural fabric of the building. A number of small restoration measures have been taken one after another since then, most recently the restoration of the colourful historic design of the portico. These efforts set an example in the planned restoration of the church space, being very careful not to cover up the marks of time, but to preserve and accentuate the signs of the historical upheaval that the building has witnessed.

A visionary instrument

The new organ will be designed to combine conventional with experimental registers and to make it possible for visitors to experience the unique acoustics of the Zionskirche once more. Thanks to its great flexibility in configuration and the broad palette of timbres it will have available to it, the organ is designed especially to meet the needs of contemporary organ music and to be suitable for use in a wide variety of performance formats. It will add a new layer of richness to church services through the innovative use of music. The Zionskirche’s unique new organ will bring new musical possibilities to the regional musical landscape, adding to the great tradition of historic organs enjoyed by Berlin, Brandenburg and the whole of northern Germany. And SoundSpaceZion will have room to develop its own unique character in Berlin, a city ranking at the very top in the world of contemporary music.

A unique opportunity

The church’s space, indelibly marked by its eventful history – by the upheavals, changes and tensions it has seen since its construction – makes it a symbol of the decisive experiences that were to shape our culture right up to today, in the language of contemporary music too. A lively, open and active parish in a dynamic city, a fascinating sacred space and the unique opportunity become involved in a new musical concept, without being restricted by to what is already there. That is the hugely promising background before which we are pushing the SoundSpaceZion project forward.


Give us your support

The cost for the restoration work and the new organ will add up to a total of about seven million Euros, with funds coming from public subsidies and donations.


Project leadership

A joint project of the Protestant parish of am Weinberg and the Förderverein Zionskirche e.V. (the Zionskirche development association).