Friedenskirche: A journey through space and time with the Berlin Soundpainting Orchestra

Friedenskirche is a Baptist church in Charlottenburg with a history stretching back to 1897.

Berlin Soundpainting Orchestra at Friedenskirche

The red-brick building feels solid. Inside it is stark, modern. The only vibrant feature is an 80 square metre painting depicting the Berlin cityscape – with a donkey walking through Brandenburg Gate, making it sway, analogous to Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem.

The Berlin Soundpainting Orchestra started their concert at Friedenskirche on Sunday evening with a modern, relaxed groove. A pulsing sound that brought out the warm colours of the painting on the wall behind them. The mood matched the church – but then stopped. The church became dark and creepy.

Between 1897 and 1908, this space was a Catholic Apostolic Church, with ideas of renunciation and temptation, prohibition and sin, prayer and redemption. The orchestra recreated the mood of this time with ghostly wails and groans, chants, violins tight and high-pitched with anxiety, transporting us back to another time. Like the donkey walking through Brandenburg Gate, the orchestra made time and space sway.

From 1908 to 1918, the building served as a synagogue. The lights in the church glowed a little warmer, and the music became more unified with the sound of brass instruments, zingy violins, and rhythmic clanging, reminiscent of the Bronze Age. Time and space had shifted around us once again.

After a short intermission, the lights were fully on. Violinists and saxophonists walked around by themselves playing their own tunes. The church turned into the Baptist church, dating back to 1920, that it is today – enlightened, with a respect for inner individuality.

In 1943, during World War II, heavy bombing destroyed the church. The music became discordant, panicky, with disturbing squeals and screeches. The violins, high-pitched and frenetic, punctured by the sound of drums, produced a rising anxiety. The foreboding sound of the organ filled the church. We could hear propellers churning low above us, a bomb siren, symbols clanging, a saxophone bleating, and then it happened; chaos, destruction, screams, a voice singing out in agony. The music assaulted our bodies.

Then, quiet. A lone violin played like the wind, whistling through ruins.

Reconstruction began after the war. Somewhere amid the hard sounds and discordance, a few hopeful notes rose. The orchestra assembled in front of us, became jazzy, and brought us back to solid ground.

The Berlin Soundpainting Orchestra is conducting a free workshop about soundpainting this Sunday, 14th January at 12.30 at Friedenskirche, or follow them on Facebook for details of future concerts.

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