The destruction of a district
The utopia of a unity of throne and altar soon became the undoing of German Protestantism. The church’s war propaganda in World War I had already shown how endangered an overly statist Christianity could be.
It was not only when Hitler seized power in 1933 that the Protestant church began to feel the influence of the National Socialists. Two camps emerged: The “German Christians” who conformed to the state and the “Confessing Church,” which rejected the Führer cult. Both camps were represented at St. Matthew’s by the pastors Walter Mühlnickel (German Christians) and Erich Backhaus (Confessing Church). Pastor Backhaus confronted Adolf Hitler on June 28, 1933, after a lecture to German newspaper publishers in the stairwell of Matthäikirchstrasse 3c: “Mr. Reich Chancellor, please make sure that the state is not allowed to rape our church any further!”
Just how existential the destructive influence of the National Socialists was to be for St. Matthew’s Church became apparent as the measures of the “Office for the Redevelopment of the Reich Capital” took shape: Albert Speer, Adolf Hitler’s master builder, put his dreams of a “world capital Germania” into plans that envisioned a gigantic north-south axis across the city. The headquarters of the army command was planned for the site of St. Matthew’s Church.
Beginning in 1939, parts of the old Tiergarten district were demolished for these plans. The congregation fought in vain to preserve the church: on October 1, 1939, the church was to have been deconstructed and the congregation relocated to North Charlottenburg. Only the war could prevent these plans, which left the church in ruins.