Religion in Germany

Figure 1.--This image shows the Firmung at Wien and another about the Leonardiritt in Pettenbach. The boys leading the horse are altar boys and are wearing a pageboy costume. The costume is red with yellow detailing and buttons. They wear a red cap with a plume and white gloves. Furthermore red trousers and laced shoes. Finally a large ruffled white collar.

Germany is a predominantly Protestant country. The Reformation was born in Germany with Marin Luther posting his "95 Thesis. The resulting religious wars devestated Germany, especially the 30 Years War. Luthernism is the primary Protestant denomination. There is, however, a very sunstantial Catholic minority, especially in southern Germany. German boys wear a variety of dress outfits for relious events ceremonies associated with formal religious events. Catholic boys often have special suits for first communion or serve as altar boys. Protestant boys may get new suits for communion or confirmation. Boys may also have costumes for weddings, serving either as the ring bearer or ushers.


Germany is a predominantly Protestant country. The Reformation was born in Germany with Marin Luther posting his "95 Thesis. The resulting religious wars devestated Germany, especially the 30 Years War. Luthernism is the primary Protestant denomination. There is, however, a very sunstantial Catholic minority, especially in southern Germany. While Catholics are a minoriy in Germany, this is not true in every German state (Landen), especially in Bavaria and other southern German states. One 1964 source reports that 95 percent of Germans were either Protestant or Catholics and only 5 percent to other religions. There were about 30,000 Jews, compared to 600,000 before the NAZIs seized power in 1933. Protestants live throughout Germany, but mostly in North and Middle Germany. In the south most people are Catholics (especially Bavaria and Austria. A more recent source indicated that in Austria about 85 percent were Catholics, 6 percent protestants, and 1 percent Islamic. Some parts of Baden and Württemberg were originally Protestant, but due to the refugees from the Sudetenland after World War II, there are today some Catholics as well. In the former Communist East Germny (DDR), most people were protestants, too. East Germany had about 35 percent of all German protestants, but only 8 percent of Catholics. In West Germany the ratio between Protestants and Catholics was much closer, 51 and 44 per cent. Another source indicates that West Germany during 1989 there were 41 percent protestants, 43 percent catholics, 3 percent Islamics. The East German composition was 30 percent protestants, 6 catholics, and 64 percent had or reported no religion. A source indicates that in 2000, 42 percent of Germans were protestants, 33 percent catholics and 3 percent Islamic people. Today in larger towns throughout Germany, both both religions are present, but you can tell by the age of the churches, which one was originally there.

First Communion

Germany is primarily a Protestant country, but there is a very large Catholic minority. Catholic boys often have special suits for first communion. At this time we know realtively little about the styles. Some French boys wore sailor suits, I'm not sure if German boys did also. Some German boys wore white shirt pants suits, often with kneesocks. Some boys wore long stockings or tights. This is normally a nmajor event in a catholic boy's life and a major family celebration. Protestant boys may get new suits for communion or confirmation.


There are both Protestant and Cathholic confirmations. These used to be very important events in a boy's life. Some German boys for their confirmaton wear folk costumes. Many German children are confirmed, either in the evangelical or catholic church. It is a big day for them. Mothers would send out photographs of their sons in their new suit bought for confirmation. Friends and relatives might send the boy post cards asseen here. Religion is today less an influence in Germany than is the past. Church attendance, for example, is far below American trends. Thus conformation is a less important event than has been the case in the past. In the former DDR (Communist East Germany) many boys and girls who do not belong to any church also are expressing a desire to have some sort of an inauguration nowadays (Jugendweihe). Interestingly the NAZIs were condidering some sort of non religious ceremony replacing confirmation as they hoped to eventually phase out Christanity from German life.

Altar Boys

Catholic boys may also serve as altar boys. Wilhelm Hünerman in 1950 published Die Lausbuben des lieben Gottes. It contains stories about altar boys in Germany (mainly the Rhine Area, although the places can't be located exactly) and abroad. It's kind of writing is very edifying and pious, today only a few persons would read it, except one of our HBC contributors who is interested in differences between altar boys before and after II Vatican Council. Hünerman wrote that one of these altar boys had his First Communion 3 years before the time of the story and that he was confirmed 2 years later. Assuming, as it is usually the case in Germany, that children take their First Communion around 8 years of age and he was confirmed around 13 years old. That would make him about 11 years old when the story was set and he was serving as an altar boy.


We do not yet have much information on German weddings. We do not know about any specifically German wedding traditions. Hopefully our German readers will provide us some insights. Most of the images we have seen look rather like weddings in other Western European countries. We have a few German wedding traditions, but not yet enough to assess German weddings in any detail. Germany was both Protestant and Catholic thus there were a range of traditions involved. There was by the 20th century a strong socialist movement, thus we suspect that many Germans, especially working-class Germans, were married outdide the church. Middle-class Germans almost always would have had church weddings. The clothes worn by children were affected of course by social class. Boys were more likely to have costumes in the weddings of affluent families. We note costumes for both ring bearer or ushers. We also note flower boys, although weare not sure how common that was. We see a German 1932 wedding on the previous page. It looks rather like a modest income, working-class family family. We suspect that it represents a good idea of how many Germans married in the 1930s. Here we see a more elaborate wedding of a naval officer Figure 1). The boy, however, foes not seem especiall dressed up.


Hünermann has written several books about saints and Catholic people (Deveuster, Don Bosco, Francis of Assisi, etc). The books reveal a great deal of information about Catholics in Germany. His accounts are based on factual information aboyt their background.

Religious Celebrations

Germany has a wide range of destinctive religious traditions. Many date from the Medieval era. Some are little known outside of Germany. These traditions are primarikly Catholic ones. The Protestant as part of the Reformaion abolished most of them and they removed pictures and cultural relics as well. They wanted to focus on the Bible as the center of parish life. The Chatolic Church abolished customs as well when they turned into uncontrolled events (like Palmeselumzüge or Boy bishops). Some of these traditions survived in a few towns. In recent years some of the lost traditions are being revived. And some of the Protestant sects have shown some interest in these historic traditions, once seen as essentially Catholic.

The NAZIs and Religion

The Germany that Hitler seized control of was a Christian nation, split between the Catholic and Protestant (mostly Lutheran) faiths. Religion was still a strong element of national life, although as in other European countries declining. Here World War I had been a major factor in undermining religion. The NAZIs in their propaganda drew on Christian symbolism as well as pagan symbols. This disturbed many Christian, mostly Protestant, theologians. NAZI leaders were drawn from both Catholic and Protestant families, but generally rejected traditional Christian teaching. The most prominant outlook among NAZI leads was a variety scientific or quasi-scientific theories. Especially prominant was Social Darwinism). This was Hitler's outlook. For political reasons, however, he did not openly attack Christianity. Other NAZI leaders dabeled in mysticism and occultism. This was especially notable in the SS that steadily grew in importance. The interest in mysticism and occultism was primarily the result of Himmler's interest. There was a common thread in both approaches (science and mysticism), that was a belief in Aryan racial superiority. Hitler authorized a Ministry of Church Affairs (1935). It was heded by Hanns Kerrl, but had no great impact in the NAZI state. The principal NAZI ideologue was Alfred Rosenberg. He gave little notice of the Ministry or Chrisinity in general. Hitler'a attitude toward religion was that an open campaign of atheism was unecessary and would be harmful politically. He bleieved that religious beliefs would gradually weaken. And in fact large numbers of Germans left their churches during the NAZI era, although the numbers declined sharply as the War began to go against the Germans. While there was no open atheism campaign, there were discrete steps taken. There was no religious component to the Hitler Youth. The church role in education was curtailed. Some mosly lower level NAZIs who wanted to retain their religious connections promoted what becane known as Positive Christianity. This wa essentially to associate NAZI beliefs within in Christian teachings. Many German Christians throughout the NAZI era saw no incompatability between their Christian faith and the NAZI state. Thus there was no loud rejection of attempts to integrate Natinal Socialism and Christinity. This was not just the layity. Many Protestant and Catholic clergy did not reject National Socialism even during the later years of the War. This is not to say that the clergy was NAZIfied, but the clergy did accept the NAZIs as the legitimate government nd out of patriotism supported it. There were disenters, but this was dangerous and substantial numbers of clergy were arrested.


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Created: March 10, 1999
Last updated: 7:25 AM 12/29/2008