“Saints Make Their Mark in Wetzlar, West Germany,” Ensign, Sept. 1988, 78–79
Ask a citizen in Wetzlar about Latter-day Saints, and he will say that he has seen the meetinghouse or has read about the Church in the newspaper. He may also mention some of the many community activities involving the Mormons.
The Lord Mayor of Wetzlar will tell you of the valuable contributions the LDS Church has made to the cultural, social, and political climate of the city.
Wetzlar is the youngest ward in the Frankfurt Germany Stake. The Wetzlar Branch was created in 1963; last year, it became a ward. Before 1963, members from Wetzlar had to travel to neighboring Giessen for Church services.
When Wetzlar became a branch, Oswald Uckermann, a convert, had just moved to the city to work with a newspaper. Brother Uckermann had been a minister for another religion, and following his conversion he became a journalist. Brother Uckermann had been in the city only a month when the new branch was created and he was called as its president.
While 150,000 people lived within the branch boundaries, the new unit struggled with only thirteen members. During the first several years, two of every three new converts left the area, but little by little, the branch grew.
Today the Wetzlar Ward has some 234 members and a sacrament service attendance of more than 50 percent.
By German standards, Wetzlar is considered a small city. It is located about forty miles north of Frankfurt, nestled between the Lahn and Dill rivers. It marks the northern boundary of the Frankfurt stake.
The community has deep historical roots. In the Altstadt (old part of the city), a rich cultural heritage dates back to the twelfth century, when Wetzlar became an imperial city. Medieval marketplaces still stand, complete with narrow streets and alleys and steep flights of steps. Half-timbered houses with slate-gray roofs, decorated beams, and elegantly proportioned doorways stand in timeless settings.
During the summer months, operas, concerts, and musical matinees are held on the open-air stage in Rosengartchen Park near the center of town. Amateur plays are performed in the Kellertheater, which was founded by Karl Beck, a member of the Church since 1963. Brother Beck is a trained dance instructor and actor who earned his living as a precision lens grinder at Wetzlar’s famed Leica manufacturing plant. Today, at the age of seventy-nine, he remains a principal actor at the theater.
Brother Beck and Oswald Uckermann are members of the cultural committee of the Wetzlar City Council. Brother Uckermann is cofounder of the Organization for the Protection of Youth in the city and the adjacent region, and spends time each week manning a youth crisis telephone line.
Another Church member, Jurgen Frome, is a member of the city’s education committee.
The Church carries on many service projects in the area. When the Scouting Program associated with the Aaronic Priesthood was organized in Germany in 1985, the LDS Scout troop in Wetzlar volunteered to clean and maintain a city playground. This has become a continuing project, and each week the Scouts rake and clean the area and repair any broken equipment.
Each year during the carnival season, the Wetzlar Ward conducts a dance that is attended by the city’s officials and carnival royalty. During the evening, medals of distinction are awarded to citizens who have excelled in community service.
These and many other activities help spread the gospel in Wetzlar. “Getting a new chapel is our next goal,” says Wetzlar Bishop Reinhard Voigt, who works for the Church in European administration. “The present location has become too small for us.”
Correspondent: Harold Frome is public communications director for the Europe Area.