Berlin church tower emits peals of laughter
By Helen Maguire Apr 22, 2011, 10:46 GMT
Berlin - A Berlin church aims to challenge the notion that religion is no laughing matter by replacing its bell chimes with peals of laughter, just in time for Easter.
For two weeks, the Emmaus Church, in Berlin's culturally diverse Kreuzberg district, will resonate with the hearty sound of laughter, rising every 15 minutes to reach a crescendo on the full hour.
'We want to remind people to laugh,' said Brigitte Kottwitz, one of the two artists who launched the project. 'Our daily lives are so busy that that we forget to be merry.'
Kottwitz and Caroyln Krueger have cooperated for years on projects demonstrating the power of laughter. Before coming to Berlin, they converted two other church towers, in Frankfurt and in a nearby village.
'Often people get a shock when they hear it, because something is happening that they weren't expecting at all,' Krueger said.
The sound, which lasts several seconds, features a range of male, female, young and old guffaws, making it hard to keep a straight face - especially in the presence of Berlin's Laughter Club ladies, who chime in with infectious guffaws.
Kottwitz said that Germans do not laugh enough.
'Children laugh more than grown-ups, but, during the course of our upbringing, we lose the ability to laugh freely and adapt to society.'
She founded the Frankfurt Laughter Club 12 years ago, while Krueger runs Germany's forum for Laughter Yoga - an Indian practice in which participants laugh spontaneously, without any particular reason.
The concept is the brainchild of Indian doctor Madan Kataria who realized that the physical act of laughter made people happy.
'At first I thought it was strange,' said Kottwitz. 'But I tried it out and noticed after a while that it was doing something to me and was changing me, and I decided I wanted to pass that on.'
The Emmaus Church will sound its regular bells for the last time at 5 pm (1500 GMT) on Saturday. An hour later, the 74-metre-high tower will emit its first chuckles to curious passers-by.
Religious expert and laughter coach Harald-Alexander Korp said it was no coincidence that the project was taking place at the height of the Christian religious calendar.
In the Middle Ages, Korp said, it was common to laugh at Easter, as an 'expression of joy in Christ's resurrection.'
The practice, called Risus Pascalis, was eventually abolished as senior church members increasingly became the object of humour - including smutty jokes - used in church to make people laugh.
Berlin's Emmaus Church will seek to rekindle this tradition during its Easter Sunday service, when the congregation is invited to 'laugh without reason.'
The ladies of Berlin's Laughter Club are well-practiced in spontaneous laughter.
One member, Sigrid Pohl-Haeussler, said the Laughter Club helped her overcome the death of her husband last year.
'It's liberating. If you can laugh, you can express all other emotions far more easily,' Pohl-Haeussler said.
Kottwitz said that her society, which attracts women and men of all ages, had even organized a laughter funeral for one of its members.
'Some of the mourners found it extremely irritating, but it is also an incredible release. Most people said it made them feel better afterwards,' Kottwitz said.
The project at Berlin's Emmaus Church coincides with World Laughter Day, on May 1.
The Berlin Laughter Club will celebrate the day at the city's former Tempelhof airport, now a huge recreation area. The highlight will be a wave of laughter spanning the world, in which everybody participates for five minutes.
Korp, the religious expert, chuckled as he said he looked forward to the sound of laughter emanating from the church tower for the next few weeks.
'I hope that some people get annoyed at the laughter and there is some resistance, that's part of it,' Korp said.
Read more about Germany Society
Read more about Religion