Latter-day Saints living inside the boundaries of the Freiberg Germany Temple district regard their temple — which was rededicated Sept. 4 in three sessions — with an equal measure of quiet reverence and animated joy.
The reverence, of course, is a tribute to the Church’s difficult history in eastern Germany. It is a story of sacrifice and much individual suffering in this region once known as East Germany. But the key chapter in that history ultimately ends in victory. Despite being essentially blocked from the Church by the Iron Curtain of communism, the faithful and resilient members would come to have a temple of their own some three decades ago in the friendly city of Freiberg.
Now, once again, that iconic temple is in operation following an extensive structural renovation. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency, presided at the rededication of the Freiberg Germany Temple. He was joined by Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Also participating was the Europe Area Presidency — Elder Patrick Kearon, Elder Paul V. Johnson and Elder Gary B. Sabin — and Elder Larry Y. Wilson, a General Authority Seventy and the Executive director of the Church’s Temple Department.
Like many German Latter-day Saints, President Uchtdorf will never forget the challenging years and decades that preceded the opening of the Freiberg temple in 1985. And he will forever honor the men and women who placed trust in the Lord and the inspired guidance of priesthood leaders such as President Thomas S. Monson and President Russell M. Nelson.
But he is also uplifted by the many young people from eastern European lands now adopting the Freiberg Germany Temple as their “spiritual headquarters” in their unified effort to live and share the gospel.
A history defined by faith
The story of the Church in Freiberg and other cities that were once part of the former East Germany is well documented. In the mid 20th century, the East German members were left reeling by the one-two punch of World War II and the Cold War. Their collective knees surely buckled — but their belief and inexhaustible hope kept them standing.
Government restrictions did not allow members to practice their religion in full. It was impossible, for example, for many to travel to temples in other countries. But they never stopped living their religion.
And the East German Saints were never forgotten. President Thomas S. Monson, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, made his first visit to East Germany in 1968. Elder Monson assured the Latter-day Saints that better days awaited them if they kept their faith and the Lord’s commandments.
Surely the members were discouraged by their oppressors. But they also believed the future Church President Monson’s prophetic words. He would return several times here to provide shepherding support and, in 1975, offered a dedicatory prayer for the German Democratic Republic. Years later, he was among the many who rejoiced when the communist government surprisingly allowed the Church to build what would be its first temple in a Soviet-bloc nation in the mining town of Freiberg.
In 1985 the Freiberg Germany Temple was dedicated and, as President Monson had prophesied, the East Germans enjoyed full access to the gospel’s most essential ordinances. In the end, the Freiberg temple outlasted the Iron Curtain. Now rededicated, it remains a standing monument to the faith of the members.
A new history being written
The fall of the Soviet Union dramatically changed Europe’s political and religious landscape. East Germany and West Germany were reunified as one nation. But as the Church grew in Germany and eastern Europe, so did the physical demands on the Freiberg temple, prompting an extensive refurbishment in 2002. After more than a decade of reliable use, it was time for another refurbishment, prompting the closure of the temple in early 2015.
It’s little surprise that the temple itself needed to “grow.” The Freiberg temple district crosses international borders into parts of six non-German nations that also emerged from communism — Poland, the Czech Republic, Romania, Slovakia, Hungary and Moldova. The smallish edifice that once primarily served the needs of Latter-day Saints in East Germany has evolved into a sacred gathering place for much of eastern Europe.
President Uchtdorf said he was overjoyed by the unity of the youth who came together to stage the traditional cultural celebration on the eve of the temple’s rededication. The cast members hailed from different nations. Many spoke different languages. But they shared the stage and their talents as one.
“When I looked into the faces of these joyful individuals I felt full of hope and confidence that the Church will grow,” he said. “These young people are a power for good inside their nations.”
The Church remains relatively small in many such lands. But the Sept 3-4 rededication weekend revealed the quality of members found in those countries. Dedicated Mormon families such as Florin and Izabela Geambasu from Romania, who attended the rededication with their little boy, Ammon, will ensure this region remains a “temple-going land.”
“It was hard when the temple was closed, we missed it very much,” said Sister Geambasu. “This rededication is a great blessing.”
Continued enthusiasm and rejoicing
Following the day’s final session, Church leaders exited the temple with an obvious spring in their steps.
“It was an absolutely beautiful rededication full of hope, full of power and full of light,” said Elder Kearon, adding that many were uplifted by the words “of living apostles.”
The dedication or rededication of a temple, anywhere in the world, is never commonplace for Elder Wilson.
“What a great blessing for the members of the Church in this part of the world,” he said.
The rededication, meanwhile, offered Elder Bednar the opportunity to utilize the German language skills he developed as a full-time missionary from 1971-73.
“I love these people — I love the country of Germany,” he said.
A great divide separated eastern and western Germany when young Elder Bednar served his mission in the southern part of the country. “To come back now to what was, at that time, East Germany, and be invited to participate in this rededication is a dream come true.”
The skies had turned to gray when President Uchtdorf walked from the temple. But he was unfazed by the encroaching night. A lasting bright day was found at the Freiberg Germany Temple. He looked forward to returning to Salt Lake City and sharing the good news with President Monson.
“The impact of President Monson’s prophecy and his service is felt now more than perhaps ever before,” President Uchtdorf said.
Location: Hainichener Str. 64, 09599 Freiberg, Germany
Original Temple Plans Announced: Oct. 9, 1982
Groundbreaking: April 23, 1983
Original Dedication: June 29, 1985
2002 Remodel Dedication: Sept. 7, 2002
Rededication Open House: Aug. 12–27, 2016
Rededication: Sept. 4, 2016
Property Size: 1.44 hectares (3.58 acres)
Building Size: 2,000 square meters (21,529 square feet)
Contractor: Ed. Zueblin AG
SPD Architect: Bernie Messina
Local Architect: Zentrale Technik, Zueblin