Since 2003, families and their terminally ill children have been coming to us at the Sternenbrücke children's hospice, where our staff and volunteers provide tailored care for sick young people and relief for their whole family. We have experienced many special moments over the years. Here you can find out about the small and big challenges we have faced.
1998 Ute Nerge, a trained paediatric nurse, provided voluntary support to affected families in addition to her main job at a clinic. She became increasingly aware that the sick children and their parents and siblings do not have a place where they can be lovingly cared for during their difficult time. Motivated by the desire to change this, she decided to help terminally ill young people and their families and to create a special place to do this.
Ute Nerge started to collect ideas about the future children's hospice; she was helped by Jenny, a nine-year old girl with a tumour whom Ute initially cared for at the clinic and then at home. Ute Nerge met Peer Gent, the head of a nursing service who also cares for Jenny; she finds in him a committed supporter and companion in her plan to set up a family-oriented children's hospice with full palliative medical support.
1999 Together with the paediatric nurse Reinhild Pohl, the affected mother Christine Oelckers and the grief counsellor Uwe Sanneck, Ute Nerge and Peer Gent established the Friends' association of the Sternenbrücke Children’s Hospice on 1 December. Dr Isabella Vértes-Schütter (director of the Ernst Deutsch theatre) and Annegrethe Stoltenberg (then federal pastor and head of the Diakonisches Werk Hamburg) took on the patronage of the association.
2000 The first major article about the planned foundation of a children's hospice was published in the Hamburger Abendblatt newspaper. At this point, the governing board and friends and family worked home and met up in private. Once there was no longer enough room, the first small office was rented for the volunteers at Rödingsmarkt. At the same time, they started looking for a suitable property for the children's hospice.
2001 One of the affected mothers told Ute Nerge about a nice property in Hamburg's Rissen district, which turned out just what she was looking for. The building has a large, quiet garden and direct transport connections to Hamburg's city centre. The district assembly in Altona declared itself in favour the Sternenbrücke children's hospice, and on 18 May the tenancy agreement for the villa at 62 Sandmoorweg was signed.
On 7 September the Sternenbrücke children's hospice foundation was approved by the foundation supervisory authority. Dr Isabella Vértes-Schütter was appointed chair of the board; the other board members are Ute Nerge and Peer Gent. On 18 December the then Federal Chancellor Gerhard Schröder awarded the Sternenbrücke a prize of 5,000 Deutsche Mark as part of the "start social" competition; the Sternenbrücke was one of five winners out of a total of 2,000 submitted projects.
2002 The then Federal Health Minister Ulla Schmidt viewed the Sternenbrücke children's hospice and to everyone's delight managed to secure 1.64 million euros of federal funds for the handicapped accessible conversion of the building. These funds were to be allocated once the building became the property of the foundation.
In July, the first publication, our "Sternenbrücke aktuell" newsletter, was published with a print run of 8,000 copies – today we publish more than 80,000 copies. The newsletter features news from the everyday life in the hospice. A big summer party on 24 August attracted almost 5,000 visitors and marked the beginning of the handicapped accessible conversion of the building, which started a few days later.
2003 On the morning of 17 May, the Sternenbrücke children's hospice was opened with a great deal of support from our staff and volunteers as well as more than 450 officially invited guests, including politicians, celebrity supporters and affected families. In the afternoon, around 2,000 visitors came to our Open Day to find out more about the hospice. Since then, we have hosted the Open Day every year on 1 May.
2004 Under the motto of "Be in angel – earn your wings" we celebrated our first "Day of the Angel" on 29 September, an annual creative support initiative for the Sternenbrücke.
On 22 October, we opened the Therapy Bath, a very special service for our families, following two years of construction. The Therapy Bath serves as an adjuvant therapy to care and pain therapy; the buoyancy of the warm water provides the sick young people with relaxation and pain relief.
2005 On 30 September the Garden of Memory was opened; it gives the families space for their grief and reminds them of their deceased children. Every "star child" who died at the Sternenbrücke is given a lamp with a little candle burning inside. The memories are guarded by a large angel made from sandstone, which Ute Nerge created together with a sculptor based on the ideas of the children.
2006 On the Open Day on 1 May, the staff of the Sternenbrücke and the visitors celebrated the opening of the Stone Workshop. Dealing with grief is not just about talking, it also has a practical aspect; the Stone Workshop gives parents the opportunity to create something lasting with their own hands, either for themselves or for their sick child.
2007 After the loss of a child at the Sternenbrücke we often receive letters addressed to the deceased child; we have created a special place for these messages: the Letterbox of Memory. Ute Nerge and the siblings open the letterbox on the Day of Remembrance. The letters are burned in a loving ritual, allowing the words to rise into the sky as smoke. There they become letters again and the star children can read them – these are the thoughts of the siblings.
2008 On 19 May 200 invited guests celebrated the fifth anniversary of the Sternenbrücke at the Hamburg Planetarium. The event featured caring speeches by the members of the board and was accompanied by music by Rolf Zuckowski.
Autumn saw the beginning of the extension work for the youth hospice, a place to provide help and support for young adults up to age of 27 and their families.
2009 The 10th anniversary of the friends' association of Kinder-Hospiz Sternenbrücke e. V. was celebrated on 21 November with 600 guests in the atrium of the HanseMerkur insurance company. The guests enjoyed an atmospheric and magical winter entertainment programme – including music by Rolf Zuckowski and a children's choir, a ballet performance by John Neumeier and creative craft ideas and readings.
2010 At a major awards ceremony in Berlin on 25 February, Ute Nerge was presented with the "Goldene Bild der Frau" (golden image of women) award; the award honours courage, strength and charity. The laudatory speech was held by Anna Loos. She was also crowned the "Queen of readers' hearts". The laudatory speech was held by Ursula von der Leyen. The prize money of 40,000 euros was used to renovate the Therapy Bath.
On 16 April the youth hospice extension was opened for young adults up to the age of 27; the event was attended by 280 invited guests from politics and the healthcare sector and many supporters and affected families.
2011 The Sternenbrücke children's hospice academy was opened on 20 January. The academy offers an extensive training and education programme for medical and psychosocial health professionals. Some of the training courses specifically address educators, teachers and nursery school teachers. The academy also offers courses for hospice volunteers and for affected parents and relatives.
The Sternenbrücke outpatient children’s hospice nursing service was opened on 29 July, which looks after affected families with terminally ill children in Hamburg and provides help at home. The new service allows the Sternenbrücke to provide affected families with help at home from the time of diagnosis until after the loss of their child.
2012 The staff at the children's hospice experienced a very special moment in February: a birth at the Sternenbrücke. A heavily pregnant woman asked the Sternenbrücke for help, because it looked like the end of life of her terminally ill daughter may coincide with the anticipated date of the birth. The Therapy and MPS Movement Room was converted into a birth room, where to our great joy a child was born.
During the Hamburg hospice week at the Patriotic Society on 25 and 26 October, the Sternenbrücke hosted a very special exhibition about sensitive farewell rituals and different funeral cultures.
On 30 November the then Federal Health Minister Daniel Bahr visited the Sternenbrücke. The minister took an extensive tour of the hospice accompanied by hospice manager Ute Nerge and executive director Peer Gent, and he was visibly impressed by the children's hospice's many activities and by its work.
2013 In May, the Sternenbrücke celebrated its 10th anniversary. It was celebrated on the Open Day on 1 May with a stage show and a performance by Rolf Zuckowski. With his help we were able to put an excellent idea into practice: The proceeds of the anniversary CD "10 songs for the 10th anniversary" now go to the Sternenbrücke; it contains songs by Rolf Zuckowski selected by affected families and Sternenbrücke staff.
On 14 May, as part of the HSV initiative "Der Hamburger Weg" (Hamburg's way), the First Mayor of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg, Olaf Scholz, the HSV Bundesliga team and their then chairman Carl-Edgar Jarchow handed over 40,000 euros for the renovation of the Recreation Room and even picked up the paintbrush themselves.
From mid-May our Sternenbrücken city bus was on the roads of Hamburg, a birthday present from the HVV transport association. It can be seen on various routes throughout the city. This special bus gives us the unique opportunity to attract attention to the work of the Sternenbrücke on such a large and mobile surface.
On 20 May, on the occasion of the ten-year anniversary of the children's hospice during a senate reception in the City Hall of Hamburg, the First Mayor of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg, Olaf Scholz, honoured the Sternenbrücke for its commitment in front of nearly 100 guests.
From 4 to 14 June, an exhibition in the City Hall of Hamburg featuring 48 info panels, caring texts as well as pictures provide information about the work of the Sternenbrücke.
2014 During a ceremony held on 17 February in the state library in Kiel, Ute Nerge was awarded the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. The award recognises citizens who have made significant contributions in politics, business, culture, academia or in the voluntary sector. In his laudatory speech the Sate Secretary of Schleswig-Holstein, Stefan Studt, highlighted Ute Nerge's many years of tireless commitment to the well-being of the guests of the Sternenbrücke.
On 13 October, during the Hamburg hospice week, the Sternenbrücke a panel discussion on the topic of "Confronting the fear of the end of life with with knowledge – an exchange with experts in palliative care" in the college hall of the town hall of Altona.
During the campaign week from 13 to 17 October an exhibition was hosted in the town hall of Altona explaining the work of the Sternenbrücke children's hospice.
On 11 November the Sternenbrücke was awarded the first prize of the Hamburg foundation award worth 10,000 euros; the prize recognises extraordinary commitment in the social and cultural sphere. The prize was presented by Hamburg's Senator for Justice and Equality, Jana Schiedek, who described the children's hospice as a "unique place".
2015 Our Garden of Memory had to be expanded so that all of "our" families will be able to light a lamp in memory of their starchild in the future. Thanks to many donations, another identicaly designed garden was added and was opened with the orphaned parents on 17 April. Together, both gardens form an infinity sign and the families are furthermore given a wothy place for the thoughts of their children.
2016 On the 1st day of may we ceremoniously opened our cabin that was created as a haven for our young guests. Because of its handicapped accessible setting, it is no problem for handicapped persons to enter the cabin accompanied by our nursing personal. That makes it possible for them to relax aside the stationary space. Besides, it is a nice place for the sibblings to play with others and to get away from the daily medical routine.
2017 In the spring of 2017, we got new animal roommates: Our two mini-pigs truffle and Timbo have moved to us and provide since then for a lot of fun. In addition, some structural changes took place. A new disabled-friendly playground for the little ones was build and "our" young people and young adults can look forward to their own recreation room with some technical refinements that give them back a bit of independence.
As part of the Hamburger Hospizwoche, we invited interested parties to the Sternenbrücke on October 19. The visitors get a sensitively introducing to the theme of "Grasp the possibilities of mourning work" with a lecture by our hospice manager Ute Nerge and an photo and object exhibition.
Since the opening of the Sternenbrücke children's hospice in 2003 some 600 families have been here as our guests – 174 children died at the Sternenbrücke during this time. We will continue on our path and we look forward to having you by our side.