How I travelled to Ganjah to find the German Lutheran church of 19th century

I've written before about German settlements in Azerbaijan and also about the big German community we had before world war II and their role in the development of country's economy. All over the internet there's enough of information about the history of German communities of modern day Shamkir and Goygol cities which were founded by Swabian Germans as cities of Helenendorf and Annefeld. What I couldn't really find was about the German community of Ganjah city, which at the moment is the second biggest city of Azerbaijan after capital Baku, with a population of around a million people. City of Ganjah is also one of the oldest Azerbaijani cities which through centuries shined with its glory of fighting against enemies till the last inhabitant. The city is also one Azerbaijan's literature and art centers. 

the beautiful "Khan's garden" a popular park in the city center
one feels like in a forest in this park
Nevertheless, I've read that Ganjah city, being very close to cities of Shamkir and Goygol, also had a German population of about 100 people. This led to a construction of a German Lutheran church on the bank of Ganjah river in 1885. The church territory was 650 square meters and it had one hall plus fifteen separate rooms. It was built from tufa stone (a variety of limestone). After Germans were forced out of Azerbaijan by the communists, this church was used by Russian orthodox community. Later on, due to soviet anti-religion campaign, it was turned into a puppet theatre. Still, better than being demolished. 

red brick is everywhere in Ganjah
I couldn't find any more information about this church online so I decided to go and see it myself. I bought a plane ticket and planned a one-day trip to Ganjah and back (it couldn't be longer because I had tours in Baku). I could actually drive there too but it would take about five hours one way so I'd be very exhausted. Plus the gas expenses and not knowing streets of Ganjah was another issue. Thus, I decided to buy a ticket (Baku-Ganjah-Baku flight = 70 AZN) and find a cab driver in Ganjah airport. It was a domestic flight by local airlines (AZAL) on a small Embraer plane. The flight took about 40 minutes and they even distributed hot drinks and cakes on board (AZAL always shows great customer care and has excellent pilots).

As soon as we landed I discovered that I forgot my Canon digital camera at home (it is not a pro camera anyway) and was very frustrated about it. Anyway, I had my blackberry with a horrible 3 pixel camera (still better than nothing). I found a cab in the airport and asked him to drop me off in the downtown so I could walk around in there. I had about 6 hours before flying back home. So there I was, with one light backpack, pen and a notebook, empty stomach and a half-way charged cell phone with a horrible camera. 

What is surprising or maybe not, western influence can be sensed everywhere in Ganjah. It is called the city of red bricks. So many beautiful buildings from late 19th and early 20th century which give to parts of the city a European look:

streets of Ganjah, again surrounded by red bricks
I walked in the downtown for about three hours and found a beautiful old Shah-Abbas mosque, and old hamam (bath house), old orthodox church, old caravan saray, the famous bottle house, Khan's garden and a zillion of old buildings built from red brick. It is funny how easy it can be to walk around this city. If you stand just by the building of the city hall, 90% of the main sights will be around this place in a 5-10 minute walking distance. 
The famous bottle house was built from 1966 to 1967 by Ibrahim Jafarov in memory of his brother Yusif, who went to the front during WWII when he was 26 and never came back. Ibrahim till his last days had hopes that his brother is alive somewhere and one day he will hear about this house and return home. During construction of this house Ibrahim used about 50.000 champagne bottles and thousands of colourful sea stones and shells. Today, his grandchildren live in this unique place. 
I was very exhausted after walking around for three hours and decided to have some light meals and rest a little bit before searching for the German Lutheran church, probably the main reason I came here. From downtown I walked for fifteen more minutes before I could see the other bank of the river. It is funny how many people couldn't help me when I was asking about a church, so I had to say "the old puppet theatre" and they would immediately show me the direction. The soviet past did its mission perfectly. Some people up to now don't know that there might be mosques, churches and synagogues in their neighbourhood. 
today the church still stands in a great condition from the outside
Finally I found the church and entered its backyard because the entrance doors were locked. There were two men in the backyard discussing something. I asked them a couple of questions about the current situation of this place. They told me what I've read already, that the church was used as a puppet theatre during soviet times although now it is not used anymore and soon it will probably be renovated by the government as an important historical building and I was very glad to hear it. 


I told them that I am a blogger and a Baku tour guide and that I would like to take a look inside. Of course they responded negatively because of safety issues (some renovation is already going on and they've installed wooden blocks around it). Then I asked if I can walk around the church in the back yard to take a few pictures. They agreed and politely asked me to be careful and watch my step. You know how people say, "what's not allowed is always interesting". On the other side of the church I saw a door that was not locked and decided to sneak in while nobody was watching. "It is not a secret nuclear plant anyway" I thought to myself and decided to take a few quick shots inside.

the main hall, to reach which I had to climb to the second floor but I believe the main entrance from the street opens here because the backyard is quite lower than the street 
some heritage, a part of the building's puppet theatre past
The illumination was not good plus my old and rusty blackberry camera takes no good pictures even in good illumination so I am sorry about the quality. But it was quite interesting and I enjoyed what I saw inside. I didn't risk to climb up to the last floor to reach the bell tower because the old stairs were already cracking under my heavy body.


The main lesson I've learnt from this trip was to check twice if the camera is packed and plan a longer trip for an event like this. Well I'm definitely coming back here next spring....

related articles:
German Settlements of Azerbaijan
Churches of Baku / Then & Now