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The Comforter of Berlin

I came across this photo yesterday.

It is a photo of Pastor Bruno Doehring preaching in the crypt of the bombed out and demolished Berlin Cathedral in 1944.

It is a powerful photo. Why? Because it shows that even when our most magnificent buildings are all gone we still have the most important thing: God’s Word.

Doehring, it turns out, was an incredibly complex and even enigmatic figure in the 20th century. He was born in 1879 and was ordained in the Old Prussian Union Church in the first decade of the 20th century. He received his doctorate in theology in 1911 and soon thereafter became one of Germany’s leading preachers in his late 20s. Four months before the outbreak of the Great War, Kaiser Wilhelm appointed Doehring to the prominent post of court chaplain and provost of the Berlin Cathedral which was across the street from the royal palace in Berlin. Doehring was a committed monarchist and he preached sermons typical of his day that saw the Great War as a crusade for Kaiser and Fatherland. Greatly disappointed by the defeat of Germany in the war and disillusioned by abdication of the Kaiser, Doehring continued to preach and teach in Berlin. He became involved in politics during the Weimar period and even tried to form a political party called the German Reformation Party which unsurprisingly received few votes.

All of this set up Doehring for the most interesting period of his life: the rise of the Nazis and the subsequent war. As a staunch monarchist Doehring saw the Nazis as a threat to the German nation. When the Nazis, who dominated all aspects of society in Germany, attempted to infiltrate the German church by fusing the prevailing Nazi culture with church and the Faith Doehring stood firm against them. He refused the SA funeral services at the Berlin Cathedral. He denied those who sought to revise the Faith of the church with the prevailing culture (the so called German Christian movement, a fusion of Nazism and Christianity) access to the Cathedral or its Divine Services. Pastor Bruno Doehring in this period was a living embodiment of St. Paul’s admonition to the church in 1 Corinthians 16: 13 “Be watchful, stand firm in the Faith, act like men, be strong.” The Gestapo sat in the pews for his sermons. They banned his sermons from being published (Doehring was known for high sales of his sermon devotional books before the war). Doehring stood firm against those who sought to confuse God’s Word and revise the Christian Faith along the lines of the culture. He would not bend to those who through it was better for the church to submit to the prevailing ideology and cultural ideas of the day.

Berlin was struck hard by Allied bombing in 1944 as the war neared its horrific conclusion. As the world seemingly collapsed around him in Berlin that winter Doehring was at his best. In September 1944, he began preaching in the Hohenzollern Crypt of the Berlin Cathedral. He preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ to thousands of terrified and grieving Berliners. They streamed into the crypt of the Cathedral dodging bombs and collapsing buildings to hear that God had not forsaken them, that their sins were forgiven in Christ and he would not let them go. Doehring became known as the “Comforter of Berlin” in the last year of the war and its aftermath.

Doehring continued to preach in Berlin until his death in 1961. A few years ago, the Berlin Cathedral produced a short video of his life and it can be seen here.

Bruno Doehring’s conduct during the war and its aftermath is an example to any faithful pastor and church now. There is no compromising with those who seek to revise the Christian Faith with the prevailing culture, not then in 1944 and not now in 2021. Stand firm in the Faith always and no matter what.


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