1000 years of Brauweiler Abbey: From monastery to focus camp | EUROtoday

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Das Anna-Karenina-Prinzip, alle glücklichen Familien seien in ihrem Glück gleich, im Unglück aber höchst unterschiedlich, könnte man auch auf die alten Klöster Europas anwenden. Nach einer quick immer glanzvollen Geschichte im Mittelalter, der Gründungszeit der allermeisten Abteien, als zahllose von ihnen quasi-familiär miteinander „verbrüdert“ waren, ging es mit ihrer Auflösung in der Säkularisierung des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts häufig rasch bergab mit dem Ruhm. Sie wurden unter Napoleon zu Pferdeställen, Schmieden und anderen handwerklichen oder kleinindu­striellen Betrieben degradiert oder gleich wie eines von nur vier Reichsklöstern, Murbach im Elsass, als Steinbruch genutzt und fast vollständig abgetragen.

So geschah es auch der vor tausend Jahren von Gräfin Mathilde gegründeten Abtei Brauweiler. Die Gründerin war Tochter der byzantinisch-ottonischen Fast-Prinzessin Theophanu und Mutter der späteren polnischen Königin Richeza, die den zweiten Erweiterungsbau von Brauweiler stiftete. Nach Aussterben der Ottonen 1024 mit deren letztem Kaiser Heinrich II. kam es im Zuge dieses einschneidenden Machtwechsels zur Stiftung des in der Krypta des elften Jahrhunderts politstrategisch bewusst salische Bauformen aufgreifenden Klosters Brauweiler als kulturelles Leuchtturmzentrum, Auffangstation für überzählige Adlige sowie als Kunst- und Wissensspeicher. Bis 1147 wurde die Abteikirche dreimal erheblich vergrößert, im Barock entstanden über und teilweise mit den Mauern des romanischen Klosters der großzügige Prälaturhof und insbesondere der prunkvolle Rokoko-Kaisersaal in rosa und türkiser Stuckfassung (einmal im Jahr wird zum Denkmaltag ein blinder Fensterladen in der strahlend rot-weißen Barockfassade geöffnet und gibt den Blick auf die darunterliegenden Mauern des zwölften Jahrhunderts frei).

Blick auf die romanische Kirche der Abtei durch einen der Bögen des Kreuzgangs
View of the Romanesque church of the abbey through one of the arches of the cloisterBrauweiler Abbey

After eight hundred years of lively monastic life, it was all over. The abbey was dissolved in 1802 as part of secularization, and in 1809 the French converted it into a so-called “beggars' depot” for the poor and homeless, which already hints at the degrading “depositing” of people. From 1815 onwards, when the Rhineland was now governed from Berlin, the abbey became a Prussian “workhouse”, which it remained, shockingly, until 1969. The cellae of the medieval monks became cells, and a huge detention center was set up in the commercial wing in the middle of the idyllic, twelve-hectare monastery park, with up to 1,300 detainees at its peak.

Creeping process of dehumanization

In fact, the creeping process of dehumanization was also accompanied by linguistic trivializations such as the term “reformatory institution” for this camp for allegedly “work-shy” people, which the National Socialists were able to exploit to their advantage. In the wake of the Reichstag fire on February 27, 1933 and the associated “decree” issued by Hindenburg, the first people taken into “protective custody” arrived at Brauweiler Abbey just two days after the event, which the National Socialists exploited for propaganda purposes. As early as December of that year, the letterhead of the institution's management read “The Director of the Brauweiler Concentration Camp”.

The early concentration camps, mainly for political prisoners, were the forerunners of the later extermination camps, and Brauweiler was treated as the same as them on paper. More than six hundred Jews from Cologne and the surrounding area were “collected” here for transport to Dachau, and four hundred forced sterilizations were ordered within the monastery walls; the Gestapo, the Bethke commando and the SS “Reich” division tortured and beat people during interrogations. The prisoners were mainly opposition politicians, Poles, Spanish fighters and communists, who were abducted under the so-called Night and Fog Decree without a valid arrest warrant.

Among the graffiti carved into the prison walls in the women's wing are up to sixty hearts and many different names from over a hundred years. Among the most prominent prisoners in Brauweiler were the Cologne police chiefs of the Weimar Republic, Otto Bauknecht and Karl Zörgiebel of the SPD, who had taken action against communists and Nazi gangs before 1933. Both were released from protective custody in 1934, but continued to be terrorized. Towards the end of the war, the former Center Party representative and Cologne mayor Konrad Adenauer, who had previously been hiding in the Westerwald, was also targeted. His wife Augustine was imprisoned, psychologically tortured and, in order to force Adenauer to reveal his hiding place, threatened with imprisoning her two daughters as well. She could not forgive herself for the all too understandable “betrayal”; she attempted suicide in prison, from which she died a short time later.

Dark sides of the abbey’s history come to light

All of this is documented with the relevant documents in the now opened permanent exhibition on the glory and misery of the abbey, but above all in the very impressive newly established “memorial” in the former prison wing. And in the permanent exhibition on mulberry-colored walls – the monastery's founder Mathilde experienced her foundation “vision” under the now supposedly thousand-year-old mulberry tree in the park – and on halved Romanesque round arches for the repeated changes in the complex (building) history, the dark side of the abbey's history is not left out. For example, when Rosemarie Nitribitt, who was prominent in the Adenauer era and who was already a prostitute at the age of thirteen, was sent to the workhouse in 1952, which was unscrupulously continued to be run in the post-war period, under the pretext of “vagrancy”. Or the so-called “Brauweiler scandal” of 1978 within the constructing that was nonetheless used as a state hospital for the “mentally ill”, when an inmate who had connections to the “Socialist Self-Help Cologne” died resulting from over-medication, which led to an early and veritable storm of protest within the close by metropolis à la “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” – the leather-based muzzle that was on show and used for a very long time to “immobilize” sufferers is sufficient to make anybody shudder.

After the emotionally annoying basement rooms of the memorial, one thing uplifting just like the Romanesque-Gothic abbey church is a good suggestion. Above the tube-like vestibule there are actually workplaces, the whitewashed partitions resulting in the Romanesque foremost entrance within the type of a neo-Roman portico are in stark distinction to the magnificent tympanum, which has retained its colorfulness from eight hundred years in the past as a result of it was whitewashed over within the Baroque interval. The abbey church is wealthy in excellent artistic endeavors, the early tympanum, which nonetheless has the preliminary type of a stone arch inside a rectangle, has the distinctive form of a triple snake ring as an emblem of infinity, in that the 2 Ourobouroi-Snake rings on the perimeters are suspended in a wonderfully geometric ring within the center, like chain hyperlinks. The distinctive portal is surrounded by the well-known late Ottonian recess reliefs, a few of which had been scattered throughout secularization and are subsequently now within the Schnütgen Museum in Cologne and the State Museum in Bonn, through which Seraphim, indicators of the zodiac and Brauweiler's church patrons Nicholas and Medardus are set in deep recesses.

Before coming into the church via the portal, nevertheless, it’s value taking a detour to the proper into the lapidarium, the place extra of the reliefs which can be now not walled into the wall could be admired, a few of them of their unique colour, however above all two relics which can be in a position to encourage many non-Catholics with their aesthetics: the silver reliquary case for the Holy Lance of the Roman Empire of the identical identify dates from the eleventh century. It was made by the monastery's founder for the weapon with which, in accordance with legend, Longinus inflicted the wound on Christ's aspect on the cross. The shimmering case for the Holy Lance with its clear geometric shapes seems simply as good as the enduring Bauhaus jug by Marianne Brandt. There might be much more settlement within the aesthetic overwhelm of the so-called Bernhard's chasuble, an extremely magnificent liturgical garment that Bernhard of Clairvaux, the founding father of the Cistercian order, is claimed to have given to the abbey with out additional ado when he visited Brauweiler in 1147. The reality is that the gold damask, which has been excellently preserved regardless of quite a few loans over the previous a long time, is embroidered throughout with double-headed eagles in medallions that may solely be recognized from a sure angle, however in any other case mysteriously disappear into the golden background.

But the thread that runs from the darkish Gestapo jail to the church will not be a crimson one, however relatively a glass one: Since Adenauer had turn into buddies with one among his jail guards, he and him donated a church window after the warfare as a sort of atonement – a relentless reminder of the slim survival on this darkish time. It reveals a person with the options of the long run Federal Chancellor as Daniel within the lion's den, threatened by 4 large cats, whereas the Babylonian king with the unmistakable facial options and, above all, Hitler's moustache seems to be down on him from above. Snakes lick their tongues on the sides, and in its combination of temptation and Babylonian captivity from 1933 to 1945, the window serves as a warning and image for the historical past of those particular monastery partitions in Brauweiler.

1000 years of Brauweiler Abbey – A spot of Rhenish historical past. The wonderful accompanying publication of the identical title by Michael Kohler from Greven Verlag prices 40 euros.