Berlin: Foundation stone of 'The House of One' - one sacral building for three religions - to be laid in April 2020

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  • After a long preparatory phase the internationally noticed project took a decisive step forward.
  • With a synagogue, church, mosque and a central room for encounter under one roof, open for the general public, it might be unique worldwide.
  • It is intended for learning through mutual religious encounter, through talks, festivals, exhibitions, readings, concerts, and workshops.
  • A Protestant community initiated the project, jointly carried out with liberal Jews and the Gülen related Forum for Intercultural Dialogue e.V.
  • The Catholic Church, orthodox Jews and Mosque Communities didn’t want to participate.
  • The Berlin architecture group Kuehn Malvezzi, winner of the architectural contest, obtained the contract.

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 the end of May. On April 14, 2020, seven years after the building competition had been announced, the foundation stone will be laid.

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 communities” 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 “Abrahamic religions“, there are non-negligible differences in theology and religious traditions. Not to mention that religious issues are claimed as a reasons for – also violent – clashes.

In view of the above, the protestant church community St. Petri-St. Mary’s Church in the Berlin district of Mitte, the Jewish community of Berlin, the rabbinical seminary Abraham-Geiger-Kolleg, and the Muslim initiative Forum for Intercultural Dialogue e.V. (FID e.V.) 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 separate rooms can open their doors to an empty central room which they are built around as can be seen by the floorplan (p. 17 of the brochure 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 Charter for the partnership 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. The plannings comprised nine subareas, one of them the Petriplatz in the midst of the old Berlin-Cölln dating from the year 1650 from where the modern Berlin had developed. At least from the 13th century until 1960 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. In 2009, the Protestant St. Mary’s Church decided to build a new church there but as a particular place for communication whereas at that time the Berlin Senate had a commercial and office building in mind, as the Berliner Morgenpost reported.
Now, The House of One will add value for the city by giving “a future-oriented shape to the coexistence of religion and city”, as Pastor Gregor Hohberg had put it.

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 perception depends on which comparison criteria are used, since the media are referring to multifaith projects which they consider to be similar to The House of One:

  • 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 Washington Post)
  • For Protestant, Catholic and Muslim communities in Stockholm, the “The Guds Hus (‘God’s House’) is being built,” referred to as “a variation on the House of One.”

The Interim report of the project, published by the The EKD Institute for Research on Religious and Ideological Issues (EZW), stated 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. (EZW Materialdienst 2016,1 p. 13)

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

The co-existence 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 meant to obey 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 was 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 the one hand that the encounter with people of other faiths promotes one’s own identity of faith (EZW p. 15). On the other hand, the question of truth can be kept open, well knowing that only God knows the answer. “Thus the great theological question, whether Jews, Christians and Muslims pray to the same God or not, shall consciously be kept open” (EZW p.15).

Most of the Muslim communities and the Catholic Church declined to take part

The path to gain clarity about the project so that it is time to lay the foundation stone was difficult. The EZW and the Old Catholic Church reported about problems Gregor Hohberg had to face when he was trying to gain partners. Lala Süsskind and later the liberal rabbis Tovia Ben-Chorin (Jewish Community) and Walter Homolka (Abraham-Geiger-Kolleg), had reacted positively to Gregor Hohberg’s project, whereas orthodox Jews as well as – with one exception – Muslim communities had shown restraint.
As to the DITIB (Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs) the problem was that it had claimed to get granted the sole right of representation, the Old Catholics reported. But the Charter of the House clearly determines that “none of them [the members] claim to be the exclusive representative”. The Der Tagesspiegel reported that some of the Mosque communities didn’t want to make common cause with with Jews, who vice versa voiced concerns in regard of some Muslim associations.
An agreement could only be reached with the FID e.V. which has close links to the Hizmet (Gülen movement). The EZW pointed to the fact that the FID e.V. is not representative by terms of membership and is intra-islamically controversial. Not associated to a Mosque community, it had used other communities’ Mosques. Only after the Turkey coup attempt in 2016 when Gülen-related actors were being exposed hostilities, the FID e.V. established rooms for prayer in its five cultural associations in Berlin, as the Erlanger Zentrum für Islam und Recht in Europa (EZIRE) reported (p 28). Thus, the
activities of the FID e.V. were in the field of secular education; for the concerns of the project, the Gülen-related actors are suitable because in their own specific manner they actively accept the secular society (EZW p. 229). Also the Senate of Berlin took a positive view. In an answer to a parlamentary question it estimated the FID e.V. to actively and authentically support cross-religious cooperation, to show openness to other religions and willingness to communicate.
As to the Catholic Church, the Archbishop justified his negative reply with limited financial and human resources, as the EZW reported.
But notwithstanding which religious communities are partnering with the project, according to the Charta, no member of whatever community is being excluded from the House.

Financial support comes from several sources.

On February 21, the Senate of Berlin told that the financing of the project was based on a crowdfunding campaign in more than fifty countries, on benefits by – not specified – German Major Donors and by fundings in the framework of the federal program “National Projects of Urban Development – Future Investment Program”.  2012, Hohberg had told to Der Tagesspiegel, that a limit had been set for the maximal amount of a single donation because the project didn’t want to be dependent on private Major Donors.
According to the Senate of Berlin, the total costs amount to € 43.5 million. € 3.4 million are funded by the “National Project”. Until January, the donation amounted to €  8.5 million. “10 million euros have been pledged by the federal government – with the proviso that the state of Berlin and private donors will each contribute a further 10 million euros. The remaining gap of five million euros will be closed with crowdfunding and fundraising campaigns.”, the project recently told. The project carrier is the “Stiftung House of One”, which had been founded on September 8, 2012. The foundation capital in the amount of € 273.000 was contributed by the Bildungs- und Wissenschaftsförderungs gGmbH Düsseldorf and the Stuttgarter Lehrhaus/Stiftung für interreligiösen Dialog, the Jüdische Allgemeine reported.

 

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