In 2009, archaeologists working in the heart of Berlin excavated the foundations of what is thought to be one of the city's first churches, St. Peter's Church, built in the early 12th century, in what is now the Petriplatz area.
The church was destroyed during WW II and in its aftermath. The site where the once-grand Romanesque building stood is now little more than a wasteland—but that is set to change.
Due to the religious significance of the site, city planners asked local Protestants if they would like to be involved in the site’s redevelopment. But representatives of the Protestant community thought that another church was not necessarily the way to go.
“It became clear that we didn't want to build another church,” said Anna Poeschel, member of the local Protestant community. “We have two big churches in our parish already, the Jewish population has exploded in the last 20 years, and the Muslims in the city need a mosque.”
What emerged instead was the the House of One—an idea for a new building hosting a church, a mosque, and a synagogue—all under the same roof. If all goes according to plan construction will begin next year and the doors will open in 2018.
Pastor Gregor Hohberg first put forward the idea of multifaith building, and Rabbi Tovia Ben-Chorin and Imam Kadir Sanci have now joined him in the project.
Each religion will have its own practice space, all equally sized but with different designs. There will also be a central room connecting the prayer rooms and providing an area where Christians, Muslims, and Jews can all meet, along with those of other faiths.
“We can see all over the world that faith can divide people,” said Markus Dröge, a Protestant bishop in Berlin. “We want to show that faith doesn't divide Jews, Christians, and Muslims, but instead reconciles them.”
In 2012, local architect Wilfried Kuehn won a competition to design the building. To raise money for construction a crowdfunding campaign is under way, with a target of $58.6 million. So far donations amount to just over $47,000 from more than 600 donors. But failure to reach the project's goal will not deter planners, who say a basic version of the building could be built for $13.5 million. If planners are unable to raise that, they still plan to fund smaller projects that promote understanding between religions.
“The project in Berlin is exciting and beautiful, but in no way the first to go this direction,” said Paul Chaffee, editor of The Interfaith Observer. “There are lots of sanctuaries serving more than one tradition. You could write a whole book on the experiments to date.”
In Omaha, Nebraska, the Tri-Faith Initiative is aiming to build a church, mosque, and synagogue in the same park by 2015, although each building will be separate. There are also several examples of two religions using the same space. In Ontario, Canada, for example, the Westminster United Church and Temple Shalom share a building. Many university campuses, hospitals, and airports also incorporate multiple places of worship into their buildings.
However, the House of One may be the first purpose-built building to have three religions come together under the same roof.
Those working on the project hope that their example can be followed elsewhere. “The House of One is not only for Berlin ... the idea will spread to different countries all over the world,” said Tovia Ben Chorin, a rabbi and chair of the House of One board.
“As a Jew, I associate Berlin with memories of pain and deep wounds, but that is not the end of the story,” said Chorin. “A place that has darkness in its past has the potential for peace in its future.”
• Tom Lawson wrote this article (see original article here) for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Tom is a production editor at Positive News UK and a freelance writer living in the United Kingdom. Follow him at @Tom_Lawson88.