gottfried böhm, architect: maria königin des friedens pilgrimage church, neviges, germany 1963-1972
pilgrimage church, maria königin des friedens, neviges, germany
architect: gottfried böhm, b.1920.
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climbing the stairs and galleries that surround the cavernous main space, I found that böhm himself had not settled with accommodating the masses for the pilgrimage which was once a mass event - he had made room for those who must observe things at a distance, in private or within an intimate group of people: he had made room for the individual. and he had done so by offering several priviliged positions from which to witness the ceremonies, the most dramatic of which reminded me of caspar david friedrich's Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer, the portrait of a lone mountaineer or artist pondering the sublime.
böhm so clearly connected postwar modernity with german romanticism, not just expressionism.
german spirituality is a thing largely forgotten today. the production of cars have taken its place. the cruel parody of german philosophy and culture which served as a justification of nazism saw to that. after 1945, everybody wanted a materialist germany, not least the germans.
somehow, you cannot think about german culture without returning to the wars.
gottfried böhm's father, dominikus, had been the leading catholic church architect of the reconstruction following WWI. his works are extremely diverse, spanning expressionism, stark romanesque historicism and the most clearheaded modernist sachlichkeit.
gottfried himself, in turn, became a leading church architect of the reconstruction after WWII, his works even more diverse, harder to pin down, than those of his father. but he only came that far after serving on the eastern front early in the war. he was injured and returned to germany where he studied sculpture and architecture, nazi style, in münchen.
today, his sons are talented church architects, even if their production is considerably smaller than that of the two previous generations, no doubt owing to the delay in the arrival of WWIII...
the paradox which is gottfried böhm - politically conservative, religious, yet radically modern - was born out of this: the continuity of the bourgeois dynasty, the family of religious architects, and the inescapable and violent reaction to his war time experiences, be they on the battlefield or in the nazi controlled classrooms of the academy in münchen.
there can be no doubt that he felt a new language of building had to be developed after the collapse - and not least moral collapse - of german culture. but the new language was used to insist that a church was a spiritual building and not some embarrassed, abstract construct presented by the atheist architect to the ignorant masses; it was used to uphold the idea that german postwar culture could not be reduced to the materialism of the wirtschaftswunder.
being an atheist materialist myself with no talent for community and little trust in institutions, I have to say this: böhm's position was not self-evident. it was at heart, I believe, a position of opposition; a quixotic critique of modernity coming from the right; an insistence on continuity conducted with modernist means.
and what means...
for what we might term böhm's heroic period from the late 50's to the early 70's, he was surely a member of that other tradition of modern architecture we usually connect with people like aalto, erskine, utzon in the north and häring and scharoun in germany - equally for the experimenting compositions and constructions as for his sensitivity to use, to site, and to the relationship between the individual and the institutions his buildings represent.
but for böhm, the language of architecture remained in a state of flux. to the onlooker, the diversity of his oeuvre can be bewildering. böhm frustrates our need for the recognizable which may be one of the reasons for the waning interest in his work outside germany. at heart an instinctive architect, he has never subscribed to any theory, nor presented any of his own.