Sometimes we forget how long London has been a multicultural city; many seem to think that it was only over the last couple of decades that the city has grown exponentially with people from all over the world choosing London as their new home. However, people have been immigrating to the city since the 15th and 16th centuries and have been part of the city’s rich history, culturally and religiously. Today, there are remnants of their pasts and their impact on the great city of London.
Situated in Aldgate, a half an hour tube ride away from the Grand Park London Hyde Park Hotel lies a plain, unremarkable looking church. However, looks can be deceiving as this religious building shows as it contains a story about the German people who used to live in the East End of London centuries ago.
The St George’s German Lutheran Church is the oldest German church in Britain that still stands today, not far from accommodation near Hyde Park London Paddington. Built in 1762, it served as the religious house for German immigrants who came to London to serve in the baking, meat and sugar trades for 152 years, before the outbreak of World War I. It was the hub of the German community, with Aldgate inhabiting the largest amount of German speakers outside Germany itself. This sometimes led to discourse within the congregation with some wanting the services to be held in English to integrate them with their current home country, while others wanted the services to be conducted in German, the language of their old home country and their heritage. These tensions kept building until 1767 when, in the December, a riot broke out inside the church.
Over the years, the church retained a high number of German member, even with a huge influx moving to America, that is until 1914, the beginning of World War I. When the war broke out, all of the men in the 130 strong congregation were detained in prison while the women were sent back to Germany, despite them being born in Britain and English being their main language. This ended the steadfast German congregation that attended St George’s German Lutheran Church, and it wasn’t until the Second World War that the church was graced with an influx of Germans once again. Pastor Julius Reiger used the church as a safe house and relief centre for all German and Jewish refugees from Germany whose lives were in danger because of the Nazi rule. He ensured safe passage and a place to stay within the church walls.
Today, the Historic Chapels Trust run the church and keep its interior, that dates back to the 19th century, in beautiful condition. It is open to the public and serves as a reminder of the strong German community that once resided within its walls.