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Forgotten Huguenots of Berlin

Hu-go what? More like forgotten Hugenotten.

Destroyed. Rebuilt. Still facing off.

Across the centuries old square, the French and German churches of Berlin’s Gendarmenmarkt still smile at each other.

The statue of Schiller acts as a referee while the concert house plays the role of the audience for a change.

Hugenotten Museum in Berlin

It is a cold, grey cloudy day. A caretaker sweeps away sprinkled bread crumbs off the ground in front of the Hugenotten museum in Berlin.

The French church is a small shelter of history, housing the almost forgotten Hugenotten Museum. “But who exactly were the Hugenotten?” I thought.

“The museum closes at 5pm. If I’d have woken up earlier, maybe I could have asked for a short tour.” It was too late, however, and the caretaker was already closing the building  for the afternoon. So, I turned to my guide book instead.

“The French church (Dom, as referred to in German), was built between 1701 and 1705.”

“The ethno-religious group known as Hugenotten (Huguenots of Berlin) are French Protestant Calvinists. During the late 17th and 18th centuries, persecution and murder drove the Hugenotten to seek refuge in neighbouring countries in Europe as well as in the rest of the world.

French Protestant Refugees, Huguenots of Berlin

Frederick the Great granted several thousand French protestant refugees asylum in Berlin. The then Prussian King was famous for his free thinking ideologies as well as his military might. It was at this time when he coined the term “Jeder soll nach seiner Fasson selig werden” – Each may live as they see fit, the Guide book explained.

“Minority religions such as Judaism and Catholicism were still openly scrutinised by society, however.”

I closed my guide book and took a moment to reflect. “Have we heard this story before?” I asked myself. The caretaker was in the process locking the door to the Hugenotten Museum.

In the age of globalisation and mass migration, it is important to remember these historical migrants, the Huguenots of Berlin.

Since it’s founding in 1213, Berlin has been a refuge for immigrants and asylum seekers. For the French protestant Calvinists however, decades have turned into centuries. Though quite a bit of the French language can be heard in Berliner jargon, their story seems to have become lost in time. I am determined to learn more about their story.

“If I wake up on time, maybe I can make it to the Hugenotten museum before they close” I thought. But now, I need to get to my German course!