SELLING OFF GERMAN CHURCHES
Berlin/Excerpts from Earthtimes: "It's not simply that fewer people are going to religious services - that has been evident for years - but more and more are leaving the church to avoid paying church tax.
"Since the early 19th century, Catholic and Protestant churches in Germany have enjoyed the constitutional right to levy taxes - a privilege that once helped them become relatively wealthy.
"But now, with tax revenues tumbling, churches are hard pressed to finance their not inconsiderable number of schools, kindergartens and social programmes as well as missionary work in Africa, Asia and Latin America."
"Whereas in 1990 the two churches boasted 28 million members, today the figure is less than 22 million, with the Catholic Church registering a loss of more than two million worshippers, and the Protestant Church double that number."
What is happening to these churches?
"At the Elias Church in Berlin's eastern Prenzlauer Berg district, the sound of hymns has been replaced by the shouts of children at play in its cavernous sanctuary where a labyrinth has been constructed with tunnels and platforms instead of pews.
"The church, with its red-brick arches and towering spires, today serves as a children's museum.
"In the western city of Bielefeld, the 1897-built Martini Church was converted three years ago into the GlueckundSeligkeit" (Luck and Happiness) restaurant by Achim Fiolka, a local businessman. An unprecedented event, it was the first time a big-sized German church had been reinvented as a place for wining and dining.
"Where the devout once offered praise to God, today connoisseurs of fine food and drink indulge their passion on 620 metres of floor space," notes Matthias Pankau, the Leipzig-based bureau chief of IDEA, a Protestant wire service and news magazine.
"In Milow, a village in the eastern German state of Brandenburg, a former Protestant chapel today serves as a branch of the local Savings Bank, some two millennia after the Bible says Jesus threw moneychangers out of the temple."
"Up for sale presently is the Nazi-era Martin Luther Memorial Church in Marienfelde, a suburb of Berlin. Consecrated in 1933, the year Hitler came to power, it was once ablaze with swastikas and idealized carvings of Aryan figures, including a muscle-bound Christ.
"Three years ago it was ordered closed when its 50-metre-high tower - damaged during wartime bombing raids - was found to be unstable and parishioners failed to raise 3.5 million euros needed for repairs."