Photo by Christopher Lewis
Name of Group: Jesus Freaks International e.V. Started in Berlin: 1993 Members in Berlin: 80 altogether (usually around 20 each Sunday) Meetings: Sundays (16:30) at Werbellinstr. 50, Neukölln Holy Book: Volxbibel
“It’s really cold here and unfortunately we can’t afford heating,” says Martin Dreyer, founder of the Jesus Freaks, an alternative Protestant group headquartered in Berlin. “I don’t want to go to service feeling well and leave sick. It should really be the other way around.”
Situated in a basement across from the former Kindl Brewery in Neukölln, the Jesus Freaks’ ‘church’ is a far cry from the century-old Protestant chapels that can be found throughout the city. A gas heater on full speed this Sunday manages to compensate for the lack of insulation, but usually it’s a lost cause.
And the surroundings aren’t the only thing separating the Jesus Freaks from a ‘regular’ church. There’s still chanting and devoted Christians tilting back and forth on the balls of their feet, eyes closed in focused prayer, but here, the organ music and murals have been replaced by electric guitars and a capital ‘A’ wrapped in the Greek letter omega – a tribute to the anarchy sign.
SAINT OF ST. PAULI
Dreyer came up in the Hamburg punk scene, which explains why St. Pauli shirts with signature Totenköpfe are overrepresented here in the Berlin headquarters. He started the Jesus Freaks in his Hamburg living room in September 1991 because he didn’t feel comfortable in the Protestant church, where neither the biblical language nor the organ music won over his punk-beating heart.
What Dreyer tried to do was to interpret the words of Jesus into modern day language – a way of teaching Christianity that was later written down in the group’s Volxbibel. He says he learned the importance of belief in a savior after excessive drug use in his youth ultimately led him to lose the will to live. In the end, Dreyer chose another way out of the misery, offering himself to Jesus with the promise to spread his words – in a way that people in his own situation would understand.
"FREAKS SLEEP ON SUNDAY"
Jesus Freak services have no dress- or behavioral codes, “In Hamburg a guy came drunk to every service. He was causing problems trying to fight other guys and hitting on girls, but even him we didn’t kick out,” Dreyer recalls.
Another thing that had to be changed for the concept to work was the service hours. “Usually Freaks sleep on Sunday morning. So it needs to be on Friday or Saturday night,” explains Dreyer.
There’s no member fee or registration, but Dreyer estimates there are 80 groups altogether. The closest thing to an actual headcount may be this year’s turnout for Freakstock Festival, Europe’s largest Christian festival, where more than 5,000 Freaks gathered in Borgentreich near Hannover at the end of July to celebrate Jesus and Christian rock music.
In Berlin, Christmas tends to attract more visitors to the group’s Sunday services; this week, a confirmation group from Bremerhaven is paying a visit. As the service winds down, someone unplugs the electric guitar and Christian metal booms from the speakers. Congregants grab plates of tapas and some even begin to crack open beers.
“Christmas is a birthday party for Jesus,” says Dreyer. “So we celebrate him almost like we would celebrate a friend.”