NewsMotorway churches: 200 liters of diesel and a conversation...

Motorway churches: 200 liters of diesel and a conversation with God

Created: 08/18/2022, 4:29 p.m

Mittags schnell zum Burger King - und zum Gebet.
Fast forward to Burger King at lunchtime – and to prayer. © imago/Hans Blossey

The Autobahn as a Place for Faith? Harald Biskup set out and found contemplation between trucks and trucker bibles

The T-shirt tightens in the stomach area as the corpulent man bends his knees and crosses himself. The imprint “Silent like Heaven” looks like it was made for this very special place, but it refers to his particularly quiet 440 hp truck, which he parked in the large truck park. Janis is traveling between Lithuania and Benelux and has loaded furniture. It’s been a long time since he entered a church.

Janis says that he has often stopped at the inhospitable-looking truck stop with its arcade, motel and four truck washes, but has never had enough time to walk over the access ramp and venture a look inside the church. It is a bit of a risk for casual visitors to choose this spiritual place. If you decide to stop and respond to the request “Prayer helps! Why don’t you speak to the highest right away” embraces one thing above all else: silence. Audible silence. As soon as the heavy glass door closes, the constant roar of traffic from the A45 subsides.

A quote from Psalm 91 is written in shiny chrome letters next to the covered entrance: “He commanded his angels to guard you in all your ways”. The design agency responsible for the design announced that the retro design was inspired by “tailgate typography”. The interior of the church is “dominated by a rounded dome construction made of coarse chipboard”, writes the journalist Ulli Tückmantel in his knowledgeable and curious “Autobahnkirchen-Buch fürs Glovefach”. “God to go” is the name of the guide in which Tückmantel, press spokesman for the Münster district government, presents 18 of the 45 nationwide gas stations for the soul.

The furnishings of the church at the southern end of the Sauerland line consist of “cheapest wood in the noblest simplicity”. It is considered a star among the churches and chapels on the edge of German trunk roads and has already won several architecture prizes. The prayer room resembles a beehive, “which radiates security and warmth”, according to the Institute for Church Architecture and Contemporary Church Art at the Philipps University in Marburg. This look is created by vertically and horizontally nested thin, almost filigree bars.

In addition to a simple altar and a cross, the basic equipment of every motorway church includes the “request books”, notebooks in which you can write down personal, often very private requests and complaints, but also thanks, for example for surviving a serious illness or a successful exam. In Wilnsdorf these booklets, a kind of modern votive plaques like those used to be hung up in places of pilgrimage, are laid out on lecterns. Revealing reading for sociologists of religion, because despite the dramatic number of people leaving the church, personal piety does not seem to be as bad as one might think.

Who believes on the ride?

According to estimates, the number of visitors is constantly increasing – a trend that runs counter to the steadily declining number of churchgoers in Catholic and Protestant communities. The “Conference of Motorway Churches in Germany” assumes that at least one million people stop off at one of the 44 spiritual rest stops every year. 19 are Protestant, only eight are Catholic and 17 are ecumenical.

When the first place of worship was opened on the edge of a freeway in 1958 , “Maria, Schutz der Reisen” on the A8 between Munich and Stuttgart, the motive was to offer a service to Catholics on the way. This concept has long outlived itself.

According to a study by the insurance group VRK, men over 50 , who are educated and religiously “not unmusical”, visit motorway churches most frequently. But they don’t want to use any church services and don’t miss the pastor either. You value peace, anonymity and non-binding nature. Many visitors have no or only a loose connection to one of the two large Christian churches and only stay about 15 to 20 minutes on average. bk

“Good holy God,” it reads in scrawled writing, “thank you for your loyalty, grace, mercy and love.” A few pages further: “Dear God, watch over and protect my whole family, all two- and four-legged friends. Diana.” A Karsten noted: “Thank you for the opportunity to be here with you. My Tesla is charging outside, I can do it here with you. ”Including an anonymous entry, desperation and accusation. “I’m here alone for the first time today. My husband passed away in October. He was transferred from the hospital to the geriatric ward. There they said he’s half dead, we’ll give him morphine. I was not informed of his death. I sued the clinic. Please, dear Savior, give me the strength to fight through the trial and learn the truth.” Almost childlike trust alongside deep doubts about a benevolent and just God. “Please let my father accept me for who I am. Take care of everyone I love if you know what love is. Oh, and be a little nicer to us.” Kerstin D. “Dear God, help us that the world will be the way you created it. Without suffering, hunger, war, misery, animal cruelty, child abuse.” Naive or deeply religious? An Anne from Düsseldorf writes her anger with a few lines by Reinhard Mey from his song “Sei wachsam”: “The minister whispers and takes the bishop’s arm. You keep them stupid, I’ll keep them poor!” How right he was when he wrote the song in 1996.

Janis, the Lithuanian long-distance driver, takes a free “Trucker’s Bible” in Russian with him.

There are also regular visitors. Just the day before, a group of the “Holy Riders” stopped by again with their Harleys. They call themselves “Christian-oriented bikers” and see themselves as messengers of faith in a community that is not very Christian. They are often ridiculed for their mission: “Jesus is our Road Captain and the Bible is our GPS”.

We are on the A5 from Karlsruhe towards Basel. A popular holiday route, not only in summer. There is no getting around the Baden-Baden rest stop. Right now, price-conscious drivers are avoiding outrageously expensive motorway service stations. That doesn’t stop people who “want to recharge their batteries a bit spiritually” along the way, however, from “taking a break with us,” says Norbert Kasper. He is a pastoral consultant and trained meditation teacher and is in charge of the St. Christophorus motorway church on the service area. The Catholic church built between 1976 and 1978 is one of the classic “God to go” offers.

It breaks several records, says author Tückmantel. “Baden-Baden is not only the largest church complex built specifically for the Autobahn pastoral care, but also the most intensively used with an estimated 300,000 visitors a year.” are not easily accessible to the mostly fleeting visitors, as is the world of images in the idiosyncratic and artistically designed outdoor facilities.

But that doesn’t lessen its appeal, and theologian Kasper thinks it’s not about ready-made answers. Questions and individual interpretations are expressly desired. The pyramid-shaped building with its outdoor facilities, which seem mysterious to many guests, has been compared to an Inca temple time and time again. Bus groups, bikers, long-distance drivers, families on their way to a Black Forest holiday, but also people from the region – they all feel somehow attracted to St. Christophorus, an expensive pastoral prestige project of the Archdiocese of Freiburg. Many just want to stretch their legs for a few minutes, others take more time and let the soothing tranquility inside the pyramid encourage them to “dialogue with God”. Or less demanding to a silent prayer.

Even those who have little connection to the Christian faith or are not religiously bound can hardly escape the atmosphere. It is mainly created by the colorful glass walls of the concrete building. Probably not too many visitors will be able to follow the complicated interpretation of the artist Emil Wachter (“exemplary scenes from the life of Jesus appear alternately with scenes of the apocalypse”). “It doesn’t matter,” says Norbert Kasper, “maybe we’ve just forgotten how to be amazed.” He experiences this again and again when people look at the reliefs on the massive concrete towers. You are standing at the entrance to the straight maple avenues that lead from the parking lot to the church. They are meant to represent Moses, Noah, Elijah and John the Baptist. As old-fashioned as that may sound, what the guests obviously haven’t forgotten for a while is: reverence. Hardly any graffiti or insults in the intercession books, no disturbances of the silence or provocative appearances at the Sunday mass at eleven, no disfigurement of the park-like grounds. Bikers in particular strictly respected the unwritten rules in the house of God. Helmet off for prayer.

Ein futuristischer Fuchs? Ein Raumschiff? Oder die Autobahnkirche Siegerland an der A45.
A futuristic fox? A spaceship? Or the Autobahnkirche Siegerland on the A45. © imago/perspective
Mit Ägypten hat diese Pyramide wenig zu tun. Die zeltförmige Kirche an der A5 ist St. Christophorus gewidmet.
This pyramid has little to do with Egypt. The tent-shaped church on the A5 is dedicated to St. Christopher. © imago images / HOFER
Die bunten Kirchenfenster werden auch von nicht religiösen Gästen bestaunt.
The colorful church windows are also admired by non-religious guests. © imago images / HOFER

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