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House of One: Berlin to foster religious understanding

May 26, 2021

In the heart of Berlin, a group of Christians, Jews and Muslims is getting to work building a home where all three religions can come together. The goal is to overcome conflict and suspicion.

Berlin  House of One building site
The site of the future House of One in BerlinImage: Imago Images

For years it has been just an idea. On Thursday, it begins to become reality. A cornerstone will be laid on the future site of House of One, a building project by Christians, Jews, and Muslims looking for a place to meet. Located in the middle of Berlin, the site is just minutes from some of the city's most popular and historic areas.

"This is an important project for Berlin," said Pastor Gregor Hohberg, who helps lead the initiative. "Jews, Christians, Muslims, as well as atheists and people from other religions, have been talking about it for at least ten years." The city needs a place like House of One, Hohberg added, to offer the opportunity to engage one another. "It's an extremely important symbol," he said, calling the site a "place of peace."

Berlin House of One site with info posters
An information pavillion on the building site provided information on the project until 2019Image: DW/C. Strack

House of One is building on 700 years of Berlin history. Its location is close to where the city began and was the site of the Petrikirche. The 13th-century church had the highest tower in Berlin, and it survived in various forms until the East German communist government tore it down in 1964. The area has been a treasure trove for archeologists, who have found remains of more than 3,000 people buried at the church, as well as ruins of other churches.

A unique project

If all goes according to plan, House of One will stand atop this history within five years. It will be home to a church, synagogue, and mosque, built around a central meeting space, to serve as a symbol of coexistence. The designs call for a 40-meter-high structure of stone and brick. The construction budget of about 43.5 million euros ($53.3 million) has been largely secured.

historic photo of the Petri church
The Petrikirche, destroyed in 1964, had Berlin's highest towerImage: Evangelische Kirchengemeinde St.Petri-St.Marien

The plan is of special significance for Osman Örs, an imam involved in the project. Berlin is home to more than 80 mosques and Islamic prayer spaces, but this will be the first in the center of the city.

"This will become Berlin's most central mosque," Örs said. "Now and then, some Muslims get confused when they're looking on Google for a mosque in the city center," he added with a laugh. Until now, all they find is a sketch posted at the construction site.

With the major, western monotheistic religions under one roof, antisemitism has become a topic for House of One to deal with, which Hohberg says is as pressing as ever. A fresh round of violence between Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian terror organization, has sparked waves of protest around the world, including in Berlin. Some of the anger at Israeli airstrikes, which have killed hundreds of civilians, has spilled over into antisemitic tirades.

Pastor Gregor Hohberg, Rabbi Andreas Nachama and Imam Kadir Sanci
Pastor Gregor Hohberg, Rabbi Andreas Nachama and Imam Kadir Sanci are working togetherImage: Klemens Renner

Engagement, not conflict

"It's important to always try to understand how someone else sees things, where someone is coming from or what they believe," Hohberg said. "Society profits when there's dialogue. And that's what we're doing here."

Even without a physical building, participants in House of One have already come together on a number of occasions, both joyous and sad, such as after attacks against Muslims in New Zealand, Christians in Sri Lanka, and Jews in the US and Germany.

"We've become friends. We've seen to it that a rabbi, imam, and pastor stand shoulder to shoulder," Örs said. While extremism cannot destroy faith and peace, he said: "It can damage them. We have to actively do something about it."

'A beautiful initiative'

Widespread support

The project has received significant political backing, including funding from the federal and Berlin state governments. The foundation behind House of One, which is led by Berlin's Mayor Michael Müller, includes prominent political leaders and heads of major public cultural institutions. Wolfgang Schäuble, an influential conservative politician who presides over Germany's parliament, the Bundestag, is one of several high-profile guests to attend Thursday's cornerstone laying and is scheduled to speak.

There will be an international audience, as well. Azza Karam, the secretary-general of New York-based Religions for Peace, the largest multi-religious leadership platform, is expected to give remarks. People are also planning to tune in via live stream from the Central African Republic and Georgia, where similar coexistence projects are underway.

This article has been translated from German.

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Deutsche Welle Strack Christoph Portrait
Christoph Strack Christoph Strack is a senior author writing about religious affairs.@Strack_C