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Germany

Winter Wonder: In The Bavarian Woods, A Real Church Made Of Ice And Snow

With enough space to hold 200 people and an icy 17-meter-high tower, the Schneekirchen snow church has been christened near the German town of Mitterfirmiansreut. Builders had to overcome both architectural and ecclesiastical challenges, not to mention Mo

The snow church in Mitterfirmiansreut can hold up to 200 people
The snow church in Mitterfirmiansreut can hold up to 200 people
Uli Scherr

MITTERFIRMIANSREUT - There was no time off at Christmas for the builder in Mitterfirmiansreut this year. "We spent day and night constructing the snow church," says Julia Herzig of the "Schneekirchen-Büro" (Snow Church Office) in Mitterfirmiansreut, Germany.

Work started in the middle of December in this small, forested mountain village in the Bavaria region. After numerous delays and difficulties, the unusual construction was finally ready in time for Christmas.

Based on plans by architect Alfons Doeringer, the building is 26 meters long – enough space to hold up to 200 people. The tower, made of ice and snow, is 17 meters high. Despite the growing interest in such a spectacular project, organizers faced many unexpected difficulties as they set out to realize the ambitious plan. The biggest problem was Mother Nature: at a time of year when the Bavarian woods are usually deep in snow, no snow actually fell until the middle of December. The grand opening of the church, originally scheduled for December 17, had to be postponed.

There were also financial problems. "We're still looking for sponsors," says Herzig. The cost of designing and building the church is in the six figures. Public money for the project did not come in as expected, so now organizers are hoping to recoup what they spent from paid admissions. One entry costs 5 euros (children are free), and tickets can be booked ahead. (more information at www.schneekirche.de.)

Exortation from the bishop

In the lead-up to the grand opening, the Catholic Church also had some issues. The bishop of the Passau diocese, Wilhelm Schraml, declined the request of the Mitterfirmiansreut organizers to attend the consecration of their Snow Church, and forbid its use for weddings and baptisms. In the light of the project's growing popularity, he later warned in a letter "that all liturgical ceremonies and events held in the church must maintain a character befitting of a church."

A compromise was finally worked out: the rural dean, Kajetan Steinbeißer, was charged with consecrating the church at its opening ceremony. Steinbeißer viewed the project with a great deal of sympathy. "The Snow Church is a memorial honoring our forefathers," he says.

The main idea behind building the Snow Church in Mitterfirmiansreut was to honor an unusual event in their history. In 1911, villagers also built a church made of snow – but theirs was a protest.

In the early 20th century, attending a Sunday service meant that villagers had to walk for one and a half hours in the freezing cold to the neighboring village of Mauth. For years they asked in vain that a church be built in Mitterfirmiansreut. So finally in 1911, they decided to protest by building their own church, out of snow.

Bernd Stiefvater, who had the idea for the 2011 project, stresses that the idea was not essentially a commercial one. "It's to keep the history of Mitterfirmiansreut alive," he says.

Read the original article in German

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Bucha To Bakhmut, Mariupol To Maryinka: Our Brutal Introduction To Ukraine's 'Hero Cities'

The world has come to know Ukraine’s geography through decisive battles and unspeakable war crimes in places like Mariupol, Bucha and now Bakhmut. We zoom in on what these places mean for the war, in both strategic and symbolic terms.

Bucha To Bakhmut, Mariupol To Maryinka: Our Brutal Introduction To Ukraine's 'Hero Cities'

Ukrainian soldiers preparing a tank for combat on the Bakhmut front.

Before Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Bakhmut, an eastern city of just over 70,000, was known across the region for its sparkling wine and salt mines – and around the world, it was barely known at all.

Through cruel coincidences of fate and geography, the names of places like Bakhmut have become iconic as they appear in newspaper headlines, day after day.

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Now, Bakhmut joins the annals of history alongside places like Iwo Jima, Gallipoli or Falluja that appeared on the map in pitched battles. Or like Aleppo — introduced to many around the world as the site of atrocities during the Syrian Civil War, though known to both history and food buffs for its UNESCO-recognized ancient souk and thousands of years of multicultural culinary wonders.

Over the past 15 months, the world has come to know Ukrainian geography, often in the most tragic circumstances. Just a few weeks after Russia's full-scale invasion in Feb. 2022, the Ukrainian government recognized 14 cities, including Kherson, Mariupol, Bucha and Irpin, as “Hero Cities” – a distinction dating back to World War II, when the Soviet Union recognized cities like Kyiv and Stalingrad (present-day Volgograd) for their residents’ bravery and determination in the face of the Nazi invasion.

After more than a year of full-scale war and as Ukraine's long-awaited counterattack nears, we look at some of the places that have become the site of crucial battles in the ongoing conflict, forever seared into posterity:

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