A place of rest for the busy traveller


Central Europe


Photo AFP, Günther Schiffmann

Going on holidays is fun, at least after the luggage is packed, the trunk of the car can be closed, and the children are sitting peacefully in the back seat. In general, traveling can be quite stressful. Germany offers opportunities for tired travelers to find some rest, for body and soul.

Whoever drives down the well-known German Autobahn, for example, the A31, may encounter a blue sign with a white church. It refers road users to one of the so-called Autobahnkirchen. One of these little chapels is the Ökumenische Emsland Autobahnkapelle. The Dutch daily Reformatorisch Dagblad reporter Bastiaan van Soest paid it a visit.

This one church was designed by architect Josef Wulf, Van Soest discovered. It is meant as a chapel in a place of rest to escape "the Autobahn des Lebens" (the Autobahn of life) for a moment, Wulf states in a leaflet that is available inside the building. "This is not a chapel that requires something, but one that gives; a building that is meant for relaxation. A church, for the traveller who leaves the hectic highway for a moment; a house of inner peace."

The little chapel, which was opened in 2000, looks quite simple both inside and outside. Visitors can walk past a large boulder with golden letters reading: "Jesus, Brot des Lebens" (Jesus, Bread of Life). On the other side of the door is a millstone with the text "Jesus Christus, gistern, vandaage un in Ewigkeit" (Jesus Christ, yesterday, today and for eternity). Around the church is a well-maintained garden with plants and little trees, a good place to get some rest and relaxation during a long trip.

The Ökumenische Autobahnkapelle near Bottrop. Photo Wikimedia Commons

Inside the building, there are some straw chairs and stools for those who want to sit for a while. The windows colour the sunlight blue and yellow, symbolising the interaction between chaos and cosmos, the leaflet reads. Five of the windows refer to the "I am" statements of Jesus; one shows the ladder of Jacob, and another the travellers to Emmaus. There is also a window that refers to the period of Nazism when Emsland knew several camps where about 38,000 people were killed during their detention in the Second World War.

And, of course, the church also has a Bible. It is located on a reading desk in the front of the church. During Van Soest's visit, the bookmark is at 1 Kings 7, which reads about Solomon building a palace.


The array of visitors to the chapel is very diverse. Sometimes truckers enter the little church, and other times, some elderly women or a young couple. Approximately a million people visit one of the Autobahnkirchen, Matthias Stracke-Bartholmai says to the Reformatorisch Dagblad. He is the spokesman for the Versicherer im Raum der Kirchen Akademie, which is responsible for the highway churches. In total, there are 44 Autobahnkirchen in the country.

Often the churches are located next to a gas station or a restaurant. Oftentimes, they can be found right in a parking lot, next to the restrooms or the building of a fastfood restaurant; access is very easy.


According to Strake-Bartholmai, the churches fulfil a certain need. "It is a place of rest and spirituality for travellers, businessmen and truckers", the spokesman elaborates to the Reformatorisch Dagblad. "We also see people who experienced a stressful event in their life, for example, an accident or hospital stay. They want to find a secluded place for a bit. And others appreciate the anonymity of the churches and therefore like to visit them."

A highway church in Bavaria. Photo Facebook, EKD

In the corner of the Jesus Bread of Life Church is a guest book where people can leave a message. One of the visitors wrote out a hymn. Someone named Anne jotted down that she was happy the church still exists. She has been stopping at this place for twenty years already when she visits her parents. And a third visitor took a whole page to write down the Bible text from John 14, verse 6, "Ich bin der Weg, die Wahrheit und so also das Leben" (I am the Way, the Truth and the Life).


This year, the concept of Autobahnkirchen is 65 years old. And there is even a special day dedicated to the churches; this year, it was June 26. The Dutch daily Trouw also visited the Jesus Bread of Life chapel.

There, the reporter met Bernd Klein (79), who plans to travel to Sweden with his wife. "But before I drive there, I want to relax a bit. And a church like this has a very different atmosphere than the enormous parking lots. And when I am in church, I always contemplate how prosperous we are and that we should not whine."

Klein also appreciates the blessing that travellers can receive in the church. "When you are a believing Christian, you also believe that the blessing of God helps you to achieve everything possible and to have a good holiday."


The Jesus Bread of Life chapel is open 24/7. Usually, there are no pastors present. But people can take some leaflets with hymns on their way, and there are also papers with emergency phone numbers. If people need pastoral help, they can call.

In addition, there are specific activities around the church once in a while. Sometimes, it is a concert, other times a church service. The church even holds special services for truckers, Stracke-Bartholmai says to the Reformatorisch Dagblad. "And, of course, everyone is always welcome to light a candle. That happens often too."



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