Anyone who's traveled around Europe is familiar with the litany: "After the war, it was reassembled stone by stone," or "You can still see bullet holes in that wall," or, even sadder, "It stood here, but was never rebuilt."
But for the Jesuit Church in Koblenz, Germany, the tale is a bit different: "It was almost totally destroyed in the war, and we built something quite different instead...and some of us are not sure it was the right choice."
That's a hard one. I have no pictures to attest to the beauty of the 17th century church that had itself replaced a 13th century Gothic church and had grown new bits and pieces over its centuries, but I can certainly say that the new church hidden behind the ancient portal is a beauty on its own terms.
It hardly seems a church, at first glance; with its modern seating and glass walls, it could almost be a hotel lobby—and yet it seems to be animated by the community that uses it, and by a sense that its art and decoration are not a break with ideas of the past, but a new development from them.
Just inside, bulletin boards and displays give an idea of some of the varied activities in the church. The active Catholic congregation using the church refers to itself as the City Church, or, in mixed tongues, Citykirche, and is no longer connected to the Jesuit order that gave it its most common name. It's also officially St John the Baptist, but is seldom called that these days.
The Church's long history includes periods when the Jesuits were expelled and when they returned, but the central location has lent importance to the church and to the buildings around it. The former Jesuit school to the right of the building is now divided between a school and the city's government offices.
Among the most striking features of the new church is its glass. Much of it is geometric abstraction, with angles contrasting to the largely simple furnishings with their straight and orderly lines. Still, the rose window and others in the old portal take a bow to traditional forms, even without images.
But even the idea of geometric regularity turns out to be an illusion, a foil for woodcarving that varies from sinuous, with forms reminding me of Art Nouveau work, such as the screen behind this Madonna sculpture.
Other sculptures in wood, some part of the Stations of the Cross and others allegorical, walk a fine line between modernism and primitive. Their starkness makes them difficult to ignore while walking the aisle.
When it comes to the church's organ...well, it's not one of the great instruments of the past, though it has a handsome modern case.
Those bells on the exterior mark one of the church's interesting and whimsical distinctions. Even before its destruction, the old church spent most of its life without a serious tower or bells; the small carillon mounted on the outside did the work instead. Today, the bells play different tunes throughout the day and week, and the schedule below alerts passers-by to the play list!