Dortmund is a salad bowl of religions
The church tower of the Evangelical “Reinoldikirche” is still a defining aspect of Dortmund’s skyline today. You can even see the top of the tower now and then peeking out from behind a hill when you are in Dortmund’s hilly south. The church is at the very heart of the medieval city centre and is dedicated to Saint Reinoldus, the city’s patron saint. Climb the tower and you get a wonderful view over the whole of the city. The fine carving of the wooden choir stalls is also very impressive. Interestingly, these places were not for the church dignitaries, but for members of the town’s elite: the merchants.
Opposite the Reinoldikirche is another Evangelical church, the “Marienkirche”. The interior is much plainer than the Reinoldikirche, but still beautiful, above all because of the splendid and very colourful Marienaltar (ca. 1420), a three-piece panel painting by Conrad von Soest, and the no less magnificent Berswordt altar panels (ca.1395) – another three-piece panel painting.
If you want to see the famous “Golden Wonder” of Dortmund, then make your way to the Evangelical “Petrikirche”. This is where you’ll find the so-called “Golden Wonder of Westphalia”, a huge carved wooden altarpiece. The size and the level of detail of this altarpiece from the Antwerp workshops in 1521, makes it one of the largest Gothic carvings in existence.
Right in the middle of the city you can also see the only Catholic church in the city centre, the “Propsteikirche”. Quite modest from the outside, but the inside is definitely worth seeing. At the foot of the altar there is a little casket which contains relics from Saint Reinoldus. After the Reformation, the Reinoldikirche itself was not interested in keeping bones like this. However, in a somewhat roundabout way, at least part of the relics came back to Dortmund and found a new home in the Propsteikirche.
Industrialisation behind Dortmund’s religious diversity
Most of the old, medieval churches in Dortmund have been Evangelical churches since the Reformation. Catholic churches were mostly built more recently, due to the waves of Catholic miners and steelworkers that came from what is now Poland at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century.
The impacts of industrialisation turned the protestant merchant city of Dortmund into a salad bowl of nationalities and religions. Nowadays around a third of the population is Evangelical or Catholic. The rest are a colourful mix of religions from all the countries under the sun.
The largest non-Christian religious group here is the Muslim community. Did you know that the first mosque in Germany officially approved by Turkey is located in Dortmund? Today Dortmund’s Central Mosque is located in the Nordstadt, or more precisely, on Kielstraße. The Ditib Mosque is located in the Hörde district of Dortmund and is decorated with a magnificent dome.
Unfortunately, the Jewish life no longer plays such a major role in Dortmund as it did in the past. But the Jewish community is now growing and also offers guided tours through its synagogue. Before the Nazis seized power, the Great Synagogue stood where the municipal theatre stands today. At its opening by the Lord Mayor in 1900, the magnificent building was referred to as the “ornament of the city, built to last for centuries”. Tragically, even before the November pogroms of 1938, the synagogue was torn down by the Nazis.
Many orthodox Christians from the former USSR, Greece and the former Yugoslavian countries have settled in Dortmund. The city is also home to the Orthodox Bishops Conference in Germany.
Some religions and beliefs which are not so common in Germany also play a role in the city’s spiritual life. There are three Buddhist temples and a Hindu Shiva Temple, although the temple in Hamm is more important for the Tamil people in Dortmund.