Inside the Tauberts' chapel, you will find neither a cross nor an altar. That's because the couple, who are both singers, are building it as a business venture, aimed at couples marrying in the largely atheist states that once belonged to East Germany.
Vivienne and Tino Taubert never believed in a God. Their deepest belief, rather, is in their shared dream. Although they've done quite a lot with their lives, they've never had an idea this crazy. In the seven years they spent planning and negotiating, it often seemed like they might give up. Many dismissed the Tauberts as nuts. Many laughed about them. The couple kept going nonetheless.
Now their dream is coming together on a piece of property in Callenberg, a rural community near the city of Chemnitz, at the edge of the Ore Mountain range in the state of Saxony. The structure looks like it's from another era, with narrow windows, old columns, cross vaults and a nine-meter tower on the roof. But it's an optical illusion – what looks like a centuries-old church isn't meant to be a church at all. It's designed for people who don't subscribe to a religion but want to hold their special occasions, like weddings, in spaces that feel like old houses of worship.
The Tauberts don't call their building a church, but sometimes the word slips out unintentionally. They prefer to call it an event location. The wedding chapel in Callenberg is custom-tailored for eastern Germany: Most of the people living here aren't religious. The couple believe they will fill a gap in the massive wedding market. "There are many people like us who have never had any attachment to a religion, but like visiting churches anyway," says Tino Taubert. Soon those people will be able to say "yes" in a church without a cross or an altar.
The contractor wades euphorically through the sludge at the construction site and proudly gazes out at the building taking shape. Everything already looks much better than when he sketched it out on paper. It's supposed to be finished by the fall, at which point the first wedding can take place. The chapel isn't intended to be a copy of any church: Everything was designed by Taubert, inspired by the Renaissance.
In the cellar vault, he strokes the rugged plaster. "It's deceptively realistic. A carpenter was just here and said, 'It's great that you're restoring a church in ruins.' You couldn't get a better compliment than that. Everything is brand-new, but it's supposed to look like it's from the 16th century."
East Germany Cultivated the Lack of Religion
He says that the top of the tower deserves some admiration, with its antique-looking, forged weather vane that Tino Taubert just personally designed. It carries his initials and the words "anno 1558" – a cheat, because that's when the farm next to the church was built. "If I had written the truth on it – constructed in 2017 – it would have lost all its charm." That's what matters to the Tauberts: atmosphere, mood and a grand illusion.
The region has been described as "godless eastern Germany" in many newspapers. A 2012 study by the University of Chicago concluded there is no place on the planet with so few people who believe in God. Some 52 percent of all people surveyed there claimed that they had no religious affiliation. In western Germany, it was only 10 percent. This lack of affinity for religion, cultivated by the former communist government, is one of the distinctive traits of eastern Germany.
Some regions in the east have had strong religious ties, and at some points the church even played a pivotal role in the country, including during the peaceful protests that contributed to the end of the communist era in East Germany. Fundamentally, though, there has been and continues to be an exodus from the church in the east – a development that is accelerating today. Whether Protestant or Catholic, religious communities are losing members, a trend that has been echoed in the western German states for some time now.