Berlin: Foundation stone of the One sacral building for three religions to be lain in April 2020

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Planned for years, the multi-religious sacral building in the city of Berlin, The House of One – three religions, one house,  takes “an important step towards the structural completion”, Rabbi Andreas Nachama, Chairman of the Board of Trustees and member of the Presidium of the House of One, said. On April 14, 2020, seven years after the building competition had been announced , the foundation stone will be lain.

The project of a grassroots group of three religious communities had already gained international attention. Especially when the architectural contest was completed in 2014, the media showed interest. “Berlin thinks it is making religious history”, the BBC started its’ story.  The Huffpost spoke of an “interfaith miracle in the heart of Berlin”. The Guardian questioned whether “all religious communites” were “backing the ambitious project.”

What does the project stand for?

Inter-religious encounter and urban development: two concerns

One concern of the project lies in the religious domain. Jews, Christians and Muslims profess themselves to God’s revelation to the prophet Abraham as the root of their faiths. But besides that they are sharing the commonalities of “Abrahemic religions“, there are non-negligible differences in theology and religious traditions. Not to mention that religious issues are claimed as a reasons for – also violant – clashes.

In view of the above, a the Jewish community of Berlin, the rabbinical seminary Abraham-Geiger-Kolleg, and the Muslim initiative for dialogue Forum Dialog had launched the One-house-project in the city of Berlin.

  • By its’ architecture and its’ utilization concept, The House of One will embrace the commonalities as well as the differences of the religions.
  • Each religious community will have its’ own holy room: there will be a synagogue, church, and a mosque under one roof.
  • These seperate rooms can open their doors to an empty central room which they are build arround as can be seen by the floorplan (p. 17 of the broschure of the project). This room constitutes an open space for encounter and learning.

But The House of One shall not only be open to the religious communities. Situated in the historical center of the city of Berlin, “people involved in culture, business and politics, followers of other religions and, especially, people who do not identify with any religion are welcome.”

The concept envisages that each of the religions shall be granted a space in which they can live openly according to their own way and engage with the public. “Reflection on the own identities and those of others from multiple perspectives” shall be fostered. “Theological differences and contradictions” shall be preserved “rather than glossing them over”.

The other concern is a matter of urban development. The City of Berlin was advocating urban concepts for the redesign of its’ historical center, here especially of the Petriplatz, inmidst the old Berlin-Cölln of the year 1650 from where the modern Berlin had developed. The place had been dominated by the Petri-church. Only recently the remains of the Petri-Churchyard had been brought to light by  archaeological excavations.

The House of One is said to be unique worldwide

When asked whether there are “plans to build versions of The House of One in other locations”, The Stiftung House of One, project manager, estimated that the concept of the “House” is  quite strongly site-specific: “The idea behind House of One was developed very much with its specific Berlin location in mind. It would therefore be hard to transfer this background and the architectural concept to other locations.”

Thought the other way around, by logic it were also true that there hardly can exist another, comparable religious building at another location in the world. But apparently this will depend on which comparison criteria are used, since the media refer to multifaith projects which they consider to be similar:

  • There are least ten cities “with a rich mix of holy sites and places of worship of different faiths, all concentrated in less than one square kilometer”.  “Such close proximity shows that communication between different religions is not only possible, but is practiced …” Berlin tops the list. Working on “a single holy site for three religions”, it is considered unique and “gets the gold medal for its inter-religious dialogue.” (Al Arabiya English)
  • There is “a novel experiment in multiple religions sharing not just a building but a community”, the Brookville Church on Long Island. Particularly noticeable was the community “created by interfaith couples who want an interfaith education program for their children.” (The Washington Post)
  • In Omaha, three religious communities are planning a communal fellowship hall, the WP mentioned. (The Washington Post)

The Interim report of the project, published by the The EKD Institute for Research on Religious and Ideological Issues, states that “one is sure” that a sacral building of this form is unique worldwide, pointing out the “jointly developed new concept of transparency and openness in a multicultural context.”

What’s close to the heart: a look at the Charter

The juxtaposition of commonalities and differences of the religions seems to be particularly close to the heart of the religious representatives who had jointly developed the Charter. Therewith they obeyed the “the three religions’ respective self-conceptions”. How to deal with this tension is expressed by a quotation of Leo Baeck: “People and nations and creeds will remain separate. They will live on as different entities. But they will know that they belong together, that they are all part of one humanity, that they should live together on this earth, recognizing and understanding one another, and, when there is need, helping one another.”

The Charter then concentrates on “fundamental intentions to act,” which were derived from core values which the three religions have in common and which is being inspired by the “Irrevocable directives” of the initial declaration of a “Global Ethic” by the Parliament of the World’s Religions, 1993.

The background: Comparative Theology

The theoretical background can be found in the Comparative Theology, as the “Interim report” explained: the Comparative Theology does not question whether the faiths of another religion are true. Its’ emphasis lies in getting to know the religion of others. “The advantage of this approach is on Interim reportthe one hand that the encounter with people of other faiths promotes one’s own identity of faith.” On the other hand, the question of truth can be kept open, well knowing that only God knows the answer.


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