The Protestant Kirchentag is Germany’s largest civil society gathering. Started in 1949 by a small group of protestant laypeople, it has now expanded into a multi-day event with over 120,000 participants. What do all these people seek at the Kirchentag? What do they find? What do they feel? What makes the Kirchentag successful?
Classical theories of mass behavior cannot account for the phenomenon of the Kirchentag. Composed of hundreds of individual events, it is simply too complex; and the emotional bond that unites its participants is rarely provided by euphoria or ecstasy. It is more instructive to look at individual subjects and their sense of self. The Kirchentag reinforces participants’ self-awareness and makes them experience that this feeling is shared by others in the group. It creates a space where both the I and the We resonate. It is in this space that the masses of participants turn their ideal of society into reality.
Ansgar Gilster was born in Hong Kong in 1986, and lives in Berlin and London. He works as a photographer and is also editor of Osteuropa, the main German-language journal on East European affairs. He was a member of the team that organized the 2013 Kirchentag in Hamburg.