House of One

“To know the other, we must not annex him, but become his guest”. This conviction, espoused by Louis Massignon, a French Catholic Islamologist of the early 20th century, resonates perfectly with the ambition of "The House of One", a project that aims to bring Christians, Jews and Muslims together under one roof in Berlin by 2025.

In Berlin, one place for three faiths — unity and respect

Shalom, salam, peace

Launched more than ten years ago, this project to construct a building bringing together a temple, a synagogue and a mosque, as well as a fourth space dedicated to interfaith dialogue, was born not under the aegis of large institutions, associations or central councils, but under that of three representatives of religious communities — Pastor Gregor Hohberg, Rabbi Andreas Nachama and Imam Kadir Sanci.

A center for interfaith prayer and education, "House of One" aims to be a place of encounter and dialogue, open to believers of all faiths as well as non-believers. Roland Stolte, Christian theologian and Chairman of the Board of "House of One" says — "Jews, Christians and Muslims have planned together a place of understanding, a house of peace, where each brings the most beautiful and sublime of their religious tradition. And the result is this little miracle !" For Muslims, this will be the first mosque to be built in central Berlin. Imam Kadir Sanci insists that this is a powerful gesture aimed at young Muslims "who speak German and not Turkish, Arabic or Pakistani", and who need to assert the values of a German Islam — “With this symbolic and emblematic place, it's proof that Muslims and Islam are part of Germany. It will give another signal to society as a whole, which will see in it our preventive work and our fight against anti-Semitism and violence”.

The name of the project, "House of One", was inspired by Martin Luther King's speech when he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. In his address, the African-American pastor spoke of the world as a single house, a house in which men and women must learn to live together — "Sooner or later all the people of the world will have to discover a way to live together in peace, and thereby transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood". Roland Stolte explains — "In the same year, shortly before this speech, Martin Luther King was also in East Berlin, not far from Petriplatz, where the House of One is currently under construction. Today we're paying tribute to him in a way”.

It is highly symbolic that this unprecedented place of worship is being built in Berlin, a multicultural city with a past marked by intolerance, violence and fanaticism, but also by the teachings of the Enlightenment, freedom and non-violent resistance. The former capital of the Third Reich is poised to become the epicenter of peace. Erected on Petriplatz, one of the German capital's oldest squares, the building will stand on the remains of Berlin's first church, the Protestant Church of Petri (St. Peter), built in 1230, damaged during the Second World War and then destroyed in 1964 by the authorities of the former GDR. A historical palimpsest, Petriplatz is a powerful symbolic place for the three religions of the Book.

Architecture — praising complexity

In 2011, Berlin-based architecture firm Kuehn-Malvezzi won the call for competition from architects around the world, thanks to a vision based on the idea of encounter, not mixture. For the Berlin trio, it's a question of articulating the differences between each cult to produce dialogue, rather than blending them into an impersonal place.

The group of architects, supported by Kadir Sanci, Gregor Hohberg and Andreas Nachama, thus imagined a "four-in-one" building combining a rectangular temple, a hexagonal synagogue, a square mosque and a communal meeting room open to the outside through high windows. The three prayer spaces have exactly the same surface area and are brought together under a central dome. Worshippers will be both separated, and at the same time connected by this large meeting space through which everyone must pass to reach one of the places of worship.

Nicknamed the "churmosquagogue" (a contraction of church, mosque and synagogue), the "House of One" will be a purely natural building made of millions of thick clinker bricks. The yellow bricks are intended to stand out from the red bricks used throughout Berlin and the grey concrete and steel of the surrounding towers. "We felt it was important to present the building as a singular entity, without symbols," explains one of the architects, Wilfried Kuehn. "The building material is very common - yellow brick, used by most cultures - and, at the same time, the building stands out in an urban environment dominated by residential places and office towers."

Around 47 million euros had to be raised to put the project together: more than half is funded by the federal government and the city of Berlin, the rest by private donations and participatory financing. On the "House of One" website, anyone can finance the purchase of a brick for ten euros. Since the campaign was launched in 2014, several thousand people have made donations.

Outside the walls — an ambitious social project

Although the House of One is due to come into being in 2025, the universalist project of peace and tolerance it defends is already being deployed. The "House of One" foundation is initiating events, partnerships and school projects all over the world. "We are already planning joint events — multi-religious peace prayers, mutual invitations to religious festivals, visits to tri-religious schools and round-table discussions", explains Roland Stolte.

The launch of the podcast "3 Frauen, 3 Religionen, 1 Thema" (translated as "3 women, 3religions, 1 topic") is also part of this culture of interfaith dialogue. Hosted by Rébecca, a university student in Judaic studies, Maïke, who is training to become a Protestant pastor, and Kübra, an Islamic theologian, the podcast aims to promote a better understanding of each religion. Through discussions and exchanges of experience, the issues raised are manifold: the role of religion in everyday life, what moves young Jews, Christians and Muslims, how to pray...

The "House of One" project also inspires other communities around the world. Three partner projects are underway in Bangui in the Central African Republic, Haifa in Israel, and Tbilisi in Georgia. "We hope to make our contribution to peace and understanding between religious worlds," says Roland Stolte.

In Tbilisi, for example, Malkhaz Songulashvili, metropolitan bishop of the Evangelical Baptist Church and professor of comparative theology, has transformed his church into a building housing worship spaces for all three faiths. Called the "Cathedral of Peace", it houses a mosque, synagogue and church, as well as a space dedicated to interfaith dialogue and an interfaith library for children and adults. The "Cathedral of Peace" is the fruit of a collaboration with the "House of One": it provided the Torah, brought by Rabbi Golan Ben-Chorin, a Reform rabbi from Haifa who heads the Israeli branch of the "House of One", called the "Garden of One”. It's a powerful move in Georgia, where the Jewish community, which has been established for 2,600 years, is steadily shrinking. Waves of emigration to Israel have followed one another since the 1970s, leading to the decline of a community that now numbers just 3,000 in the country, a far cry from the 80,000 members it once had.

This project is also in line with other multi-religious projects such as the Academy for Peace and Development, which enables Christian and Muslim children in the capital to rub shoulders and share their daily lives... Powerful initiatives, all the more necessary at a time when Georgia is witnessing the deadly conflict that is tearing its neighbors, Armenian Christians and Azerbaijani Muslims, apart in Nagorno-Karabakh.

"I will bring them to my holy mountain and make them glad in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar. For my house will be called a house of prayer for all peoples." (Isaiah 56:7) The "House of One" is an embodiment of these words of the prophet Isaiah. An instrument of peace and unity, the project is already bearing fruit in Berlin and around the world, radiating that most beautiful and universal of the three monotheistic faiths, a treasure all too often obscured by religious wars and communal tensions — peace. With the founders of "House of One", we can say —