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Perils of Paulinerkirche

Nobel Prize-winning biologist and naturalized American Günther Blobel is on a mission to bring churches back to the former East Germany.

He was instrumental in organizing the reconstruction of the wooden dome of the Frauenkirche in Dresden -- and donated all his Nobel Prize money, nearly $1 million, to help finance the effort.

Now he's set his sights on rebuilding a church at the University of Leipzig that was blown up by East Germany's communist government in 1968.

But as NPR's Emily Harris reports, the university isn't interested. University officials say they need the space for a modern, multi-use building.

The remains of the Paulinerkirche are buried somewhere under a hill of rubble near central Leipzig, grown over with grass and trees.

"There's a new wooden marker up there, with the year 1968 carved in it -- as if a gravestone for the church," Harris says. The marker was put up by people who want the church rebuilt.

"It was willfully destroyed, and I think we must not tolerate that," says Blobel, a native German.

"This is much more than a church -- this is a shrine of German cultural history, connected to the most important names in German cultural history."

Leipzig Mayor Wolfgang Tiefensee agrees something must now replace the 1960s-era classroom building that replaced the church. But rebuilding the church, he says, would allow people to forget it was willfully destroyed.

"We cannot make something not happen that has happened," he says. "Plus, the property belongs to the university, and they don't want a church there."

University Chancellor Günther Lösser wants a new home for the Information Technology and Economics departments.

He says the university already has sponsored religious events, and Leipzeig's Christians have told him they don't need a church that size.

As a compromise, Blobel's group has designed a gothic interior that can handle multimedia presentations, large groups and religious services.

But the debate centers around the religious emphasis: Will it be a university assembly hall that can be used as a church, or a church that is useful to the university? Also, university and city officials are dead set against re-creating the original Gothic exterior.

Blobel tells Harris their arguments are the same as those used to justify blowing the church up. But Mayor Tiefensee counters that Blobel is a stranger to Leipzig, and does not know what the city needs.

"I have lived under communism, Mr. Blobel has not," he says. "I believe I know how a dictatorship works. I do not need to rebuild the church in order to defeat communism."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.