Bock-Lipp: Die Martin-Luther-Kirche in Ulm

Marianne Bock and Wolfgang Lipp. Die Martin-Luther-Kirche in Ulm. Ulm: Süddeutsche Verlagsgesellschaft Ulm, 1988.

This small Lutheran church has special significance for the White Rose story. Its first pastor - called in 1927 - was Rev. Ernst Hirzel, father of Hans and Susanne Hirzel and their siblings.

Its architect Theodor Veil had graduated from the university in Munich in 1903. His first major project was the Apostolic Church in Ulm, built in 1906.

By 1913, he had joined the architectural Deutscher Werkbund (expressionist) movement, breaking away from the Art Nouveau style of the early 20th century. He moved from one project to the next, primarily designing homes for the very wealthy, as well as commercial buildings.

In 1926, he received his second and final commission to design a church, the Martin-Luther-Kirche in Ulm. After completion of the project in 1928, he would not work again until 1935, after which time his projects were almost exclusively in the service of Hitler Youth.

Bock and Lipp laid out Veil's conventions in beautiful detail. From the asymmetry of the sanctuary, to the contrasting dark-colored bricks and light mortar laid at an angle (stayed clean longer and made the flat building surface appear three-dimensional), to the building's placement on its large park-like plot of land, everything had a purpose. Bock and Lipp introduced their readers to "their church" with tender loving care.

As a nice surprise, they compared the architecture of Martin-Luther-Kirche to that of the other major church buildings - both Catholic and Lutheran - in Ulm. Since the White Rose friends from Ulm attended different churches (when they went to church, that is), this slim book allows us to better understand the atmosphere of each structure.

On a personal note: In 1995, we visited the Martin-Luther-Kirche, and met with Rev. Wolfgang Lipp, then its pastor. He and his staff gave us a tour of the church as if we were royalty. Franz Josef Müller had only recently begun touting his White Rose "bona fides" by insisting that he and Hans Hirzel worked on the White Rose leaflets in the guts of the organ - not where the organ itself is located, nor where the choir sits, but in a small confined room where the organ pipes are accessible.

The staff giving us this tour said that Müller's insistence on this "fact" proved that Müller had never been in the church. They took us to that room, which has been expanded in postwar years. "You can't stand up here now, and it was even smaller in 1943!" One more legend destroyed.

They took us to the rooftop "fellowship hall," the first of its kind that they knew of. This 1926/28 church had an elevator (!) that whisked its members up to a large open hall directly under the roof. Even in 1928 when the church opened its doors, that magnificent room was used for fun and games, meals, debates, and general meetings.

We learned that Rev. Hirzel and another church member had rescued the church's roof during an air raid towards the end of the war, so the church had not been destroyed. Postwar, city council and other government entities used the fellowship hall of this church, since no other large meeting rooms had survived. Ironic, since Rev. Hirzel was one of the 700 who signed the Niemöller/Bonhoeffer confession when that meant loss of wages.

The staff also told us that Rev. Hirzel had kept a diary or journal the entire time he was pastor. Susanne Hirzel did not even know this! As far as we know, no one has used Rev. Hirzel's journal to learn more about Lutheran life during World War II. Someone should.

Finally: We learned from others that as Jewish Germans began making their way back to Ulm, especially after the 1960s and 1980s as the city paid for reunions, this little church opened its doors. The synagogue had been destroyed in 1938, burned to the ground. It would not be rebuilt until 2010/2012.

Pesach - Passover - would be celebrated in that fellowship hall, with church members joining the few Jewish friends for that special feast.

As disturbing as the 74-year absence of a synagogue in Ulm may be, it is a little comforting to know that a structure that had nurtured anti-Nazi sentiment, a structure that had refused to add Hitler's picture or the closing prayer to the Führer to its liturgy, that that same structure would start the healing process between the Jewish and German communities in Ulm.

If you want to better understand the complexities of German resistance, this small, relatively insignificant church building is a good place to start. Marianne Bock and Wolfgang Lipp are loving guides.

© 2023 Denise Heap. Please contact Exclamation! Publishers for permission to quote.

Please note that the "personal" information regarding Martin-Luther-Kirche, including anecdotes not recorded in this review, are incorporated into our White Rose Histories, © 2002.