Graffiti in the Church

When a relatively new church built in 1961 fell into disrepair, the diocese of Freiburg in Germany decided to sell it for profane uses in 2005. But the parishioners had other ideas and collected enough money for a thorough renovation. All that was missing was some artwork to embellish the nave. 

The village of Goldscheuer is situated on the Rhine in the beautiful Ortenau region of southern Germany. It was first mentioned in a document in 1424, while its sister villages of Marlen and Kittersburg were first mentioned in 1283. The three distinct villages have been a unified political entity for centuries until they were merged into the city of Kehl in 1971. 

Goldscheuer’s most notable view so far had been its Fountain of the Gold Washers referring to its long history for gold extraction from the Rhine river reflected by its name (Goldscheuer means gold wash). Now it has received a further gem and a must see for art lovers: Its renovated 1961 church. The architecture might be nondescript and didn't get any boost by the renovation, but its new artwork is something else altogether. 

In 2005, the diocese of Freiburg im Breisgau decided to sell the church as the cost for repairs and restoration were just too high. Having been built in 1961, it showed all the characteristics of buildings of that period; it was ugly, humdrum, and shoddily built. But parishioners in Goldscheuer started a campaign to save their church and by 2010 they had collected the funds needed to bring the church back into use. 

So far, so Spartan. But then the parish received an offer from Stefan Strumbel to embellish the church’s interior with his artworks. Strumbel is an artist living in nearby Offenburg and his name might ring a bell with readers of the New York Times which ran a home story on the artist. The interesting thing about Strumbel’s work is that he makes graffiti. His proposal was street art going to church. 

Strumbel is not known for being deferential or producing devotional art. His work is usually aimed at making fun of local taboos like cuckoo clocks, politics, and an overrated protection of ‘Heimat’ (in the sense of local people exerting local customs that are not really all that traditional). 

Surprisingly, the parishioners, the village council, and the bishop not only approved his idea, they became enthusiastic about it; in record time his design was approved and the church is now open to the public including a full set of graffiti art embellishing its interior. For anyone interested in modern art and graffiti, it's a must see. 

Strumbel even cited traditional church art language in garbing his 6m (20 ft) Madonna with Child in local garb. Pink rays emanating from Jesus suffuse the church, and cartoonist’s speech bubbles are empty and ready to receive the prayers of the congregation. 

Goldscheuer can be reached in less than 30 minutes by car from Strasburg in France, Offenburg, and Freiburg im Breisgau both in Germany, and in about an hour from Mulhouse in France and Basel in Switzerland.

The New York Times Article