Potsdam – Until the new 4.5 million euros in federal funds were approved, the financial situation of the Garrison Church Foundation was more precarious than known. It was so bad that money earmarked for ongoing operations had to be used to pay bills for continued construction. This emerges from internal correspondence between the foundation board member Peter Leinemann and the Federal Authority for Culture and Media (BKM) from autumn 2021 to March 2022, which is available to the PNN. It is also unclear whether the new money from the federal government is really sufficient in view of the massive increase in construction costs.

The architect and publicist Philipp OswaltPhoto: Andreas Klaer

Critic Oswalt was once again active

One of the most important critics of the reconstruction, the publicist and architecture professor Philipp Oswalt, had requested the letters from the BKM, who referred to the Freedom of Information Act. For the first time, the documents give an insight into how the financially poorly funded foundation is fighting for new money behind the scenes.

One example among many is an e-mail from Leinemann to the BKM on February 1. In it he once again asks for the payment of the 4.5 million euros – because “due to a lack of other financial resources, we are currently using the liquidity on our bank account, which is actually necessary to cover the costs of six months of foundation work. This shows how urgent it is to pay out the requested funds.”

In a note from the beginning of February, a BKM man also talks about the problem that the foundation is “poorly funded” and only finances the operation through donations, there is talk of liquidity needs – but also, again, of an incomplete application for funding. Further additional costs cannot be ruled out, especially in view of the rising construction costs of 17 percent per year. All of this – questions about money and the reference from the BKM to open questions about receipts, additional costs and donation forecasts – run through the communication that has now been disclosed.

Request for money “as soon as possible”

At the end of January 2022, Leinemann once said: “Could you give me a sign about the status of the call for funds?” Unfortunately, the money is needed “as soon as possible”. But there are still “uncertainties and gaps in the proof of the secured overall financing,” says a BKM email to Leinemann on February 8th.

Three days later, the BKM asks for precise information as to when further funds will be needed without there being a threat of a halt to construction. The documents are not yet complete and the application cannot be approved. Similarly, at the end of February it was said that it was necessary to clarify to what extent there was a funding gap: “The foundation must have sufficient liquidity for further action.”

More documents soon?

The exchange of mail lasted until March – it remains unclear how the current funding came about. Critic Oswalt wants to request and evaluate further documents here. From his point of view, it is already evident that the project is so underfunded that it should not actually be funded.

Only a two-year grant decided in spring by the regional church in the amount of 980,000 euros brought financial relief to the foundation. Church loans received would also only have to be repaid from 2024, according to the documents. As is well known, a report by the Federal Court of Auditors from February had already shown that the millions in money for the foundation were to be regarded as inadmissible start-up financing and that the foundation was making contradictory statements about its financial situation.

Tense financial situation for months

The situation had been serious for months. Even after a video conference in October 2021, the minutes published speak of a tense financial situation, also triggered by a decline in the willingness to donate and the ongoing low interest rate policy. Therefore, the foundation should seek financial security for its operations from the city and church, according to the BKM.

Leinemann, in turn, is asking for the grants to be paid out urgently as early as the end of October 2021: more invoices have just been received than forecast. The own funds could soon be used up, according to another e-mail from the time when the foundation was negotiating with Mayor Mike Schubert (SPD) about the well-known controversial so-called garrison church compromise: Instead of a nave, a municipal ” House of Democracy” to be built. The original idea contained the suggestion that the foundation should receive rent from the city for the transfer of its property. The latter was prevented by city politics.

The foundation explains itself

After the exchange of mail became known – initially in the “Märkische Allgemeine” – emphasized the foundation spokeswoman Maria Zach on Thursday when asked by PNN that the foundation had never been insolvent. The foundation has already stated several times that in Corona times, advertising for donors was only possible to a limited extent. Despite the difficult situation, the foundation maintained business operations, continued construction, designed the educational work and the exhibition in the tower and supported the offers of the Chapel of the Cross of Nails, continued construction, designed the educational and exhibition work in the tower and supported the spiritual offers of the Chapel of the Cross of Nails.

When asked whether the 4.5 million euros could still be used to finance the tower’s hood, Leinemann said: “The rising energy costs are affecting the production, transport and processing of building materials.” The goal is still to open the tower with a hood at the beginning of 2024.

Permanent subsidy operation?

Critics have long warned of a permanent deficit, including in the operation of the tower, once it is finished. On Thursday, the “City for All” initiative announced that the documents also showed from their point of view that the BKM had neither checked and secured the overall financing required by the Federal Court of Auditors nor provided evidence of the financial security of the tower operation. With the funding decision, the BKM would contradict “its own announcements and memorandums”, according to the conclusion of the initiative.
Critic Oswalt also finds it remarkable about the documents that 3,900 euros were apparently withdrawn from the foundation’s assets – “for urgent reasons”. To receive this undiminished according to the statute. At the request of BKM employees, the withdrawal is compensated again a few months later. Foundation spokeswoman Zach said that the foundation capital of 635,000 euros was “proven at all times”.

The area at the new tower of the garrison church.Photo: Ottmar Winter

It is now also clear that the BKM itself knows how explosive the funding is. In February, a protocol read: “In view of the already highly controversial project, a tax-financed implementation of precisely those components that underline the military-historical character of the garrison church (such as the stone eagle flying to the sky with spread wings) is unlikely be justifiable.” Even after the most recent funding decision the BKM had emphasized that jewelry and other insignia on the tower would not be funded.