brutalist beauty

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This post is about a 20km walk from Untermarchtal to Riedlingen. I visit one of the most beautiful churches I’ve ever seen.

I was woken up by church bells. It was six in the morning, and the bells were very close and extremely loud.

a night at the church

The night before I had arrived at the gates of the monastery of the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul. The gate was open, so I pulled the Caboose into the courtyard. Two ladies were sitting at a table. They seemed surprised to see me.

Fifteen minutes later, Sister Marzella from the monastery had offered me a place to sleep right in front of the church, and she had brought me some fruits and some fruit juice.

That church looks weird, I told her.

She smiled. “The interior might surprise you.”

the surprise

And surprise me it did. After getting up I took another look at it: it really did seem like the lovechild of a silo and a medieval fortress. A brutalist abomination.

I noted the restrooms in the basement, which was a nice touch. But that didn’t impress me. Every mosque had a restroom. Every single one.

But then I went in.

There was a gently curved ramp that led into the church. You couldn’t see anything until you got to the top of the ramp, when suddenly you found yourself on the platform in the interior of the church. There was a statue of a saint (I assumed it was Saint Vincent), and behind it there was a large open space that seemed round and welcoming.

Light shone in from the sides, and at the front there was a tiny Jesus hanging from a white cross that was suspended in front of a white wall. It seemed as though Jesus was floating in the air.

yay to brutalism

The church had been built in the early 1970s by a Swiss architect called Hermann Baur. It seemed to me that Baur had been influenced by two things: Le Corbusier and mosques.

And as I was standing there, taking in this new interpretation of what it meant to build a church, I thought that it was too easy to hate on brutalism. Of course a lot of it was crap. But buildings like this were like an antidote to those fascist-adjacent traditionalists who, pointing at neo-gothic churches from the 19th century, whined: “why don’t we build like this anymore?”

to the airfield

The rest of the day was as hot as it was easy. First I had breakfast in the monastery, then I walked for a little bit and got some Kรคsespรคtzle in a village restaurant.

In the evening I arrived at an airfield outside of the town of Riedlingen. I tentatively put my tent there, took a bath in the Danube, and then I had a beer with Markus, who had just landed on the airfield.


the walk from Untermarchtal to Riedlingen:

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