MUNICH: Churches

Time to read:

3 minutes
Palais Holnstein, home to the bishop of Munich Archdiocese

Every time I pass one of Munich’s big churches or the Palais Holstein, I think about the change in the Catholic and Protestant churches in Germany. 

Last year, about 50,000 people resigned from the church in this diocese. It’s not just Catholics. Nationwide, 228,000 Protestants left their church in 2021.


For centuries, most Germans belonged to one of the two largest churches — Catholic or Protestant. When I arrived in Germany 50 years ago, more than 90% of the people belonged to a church.

The Alte Peter (old Peter), St. Peter’s Church

Today, the two biggest churches have about 20 million members each in a country of about 83 million. So fewer than half of Germans belong to a church — an especially striking fact in highly religious South Germany.

The churches themselves predict that by 2060, only 30% of Germans will belong to a church.

Massive St. Luke’s, the largest Protestant church in Munich

The counting is credible because the Catholic and Protestant churches are state agencies, and the state collects a tax (sometimes 8%-9% of income per person) to help the churches fund operations.

In Germany, you have to apply to leave the church (in Spain and Poland, you can’t formally leave).

Heilig Geist Church

Analysts have blamed the resignations on changing cultural norms, child abuse, the pandemic and even taxes. 

The resignations mean less income, and the churches are involved in multi-level studies of how to deliver services in the new environment. They are even talking about working together.

The bright yellow Theatinerkirche suits the Italian character of the Odeansplatz

Meanwhile, changes are afoot. Germany’s Catholic Church recently approved same-sex marriages and female deacons. The biggest church in town transmits a service nearly every day, reaching 4,000-6,000 on workdays and 10,000-15,000 on weekends.

Church buildings and out-buildings often are huge, and some Munich churches are considering other uses for the space, including daycare, immigrant shelter and concert halls.

Sculpture on the front of St. Michael Church

Other churches are trying start-ups such as “Just Get Married” (couples who have civil marriage papers can get married in church without elaborate preparations) or a mobile bicycle cafe. Small groups of believers meet in private homes.

“Different” churches

Munich sports a small set of churches that seem out of the mainstream.

The Asam Kirche (Asam Church) is an extravagant little church wedged between neighboring buildings right downtown. This tiny chapel boasts 20-foot-tall wooden doors but measures just 72 feet by 26 feet and has only 12 pews.

The facade was undergoing renovation during a visit. Scaffolding hid the late Baroque exterior.

It was built from 1733 to 1746 by the Asam brothers, one a painter and the other a sculptor, as their personal chapel. It’s full of ornate marble work and statues, making it one of the foremost buildings in German Late Baroque.

St. Johann von Capistran

No devotional corners in St. Johaan von Capistran. It’s mostly round. The 60-year-old church in suburban Bogenhausen sits in a park surrounded by a 40-foot brick wall and featuring a saucer-like roof.

Inside, it features exposed brick walls, a round main hall with wooden benches and a dramatically high ceiling. When services are over, you may find a concert or a bazaar at the church.

“Glass cube of Neuhausen”

Once you’ve feasted your eyes on the cathedral, the ancient St. Peter, the towers of St. Max across the Isar River and the immense exterior of St. Luke’s, take a look at the church with the nickname “glass cube of Neuhausen.” It’s the Herz-Jesu-Kirche.

It’s 20 yards long by 16, so almost square. Double doors open to a translucent worship center. Blue-glass plates display the St. John Passion written in nails.

I stopped by on a Sunday morning. A service within prevented interior photos.

Next: Skyline skirmish


4 responses to “MUNICH: Churches”

  1. R Avatar

    I’m pleased to read that the Catholic Church in Germany is a bit on the progressive side. A model for the rest of the Western world?

  2. Clint Swift Avatar

    The Catholic Church seems to be pretty intelligent about what’s going on. Comments by lay leaders in the parishes have been especially thoughtful. The parishes seem particularly important right now because they’re coming up with new approaches. Also, the diocese has said it’s their responsibility to decide which buildings to sell and which to keep and what to do with the latter.

  3. Ken Avatar

    This decline in church-going is universal in Europe and North America. I don’t think you can appoint to a specific issue per se but rather just the increasing secularization of western society since the 19th century. Spain and Portugal are full of old churches that are extremely difficult to maintain. You see a lot of mold on the walls and leaky roofs.

  4. Clint Swift Avatar

    Your wider travel provides a good perspective. Thanks!

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