Christians, Muslims and Jews to share faith centre in Berlin

By Harriet Sherwood

On the site of a church torn down by East Germany’s communist rulers, a new place of worship is set to rise that will bring Christians, Jews and Muslims under one roof – and it has already been dubbed a “churmosquagogue”.

The foundation stone of the House of One in Berlin will be laid at a ceremony on 27 May, marking the end of 10 years of planning and the beginning of an estimated four years of construction, and symbolising a new venture in interfaith cooperation and dialogue. The €47m building, designed by Berlin architects Kuehn Malvezzi, will incorporate a church, a mosque and a synagogue linked to a central meeting space. People of other faiths and denominations, and those of no faith, will be invited to events and discussions in the large hall.

“The idea is pretty simple,” said Roland Stolte, a Christian theologian who helped start the project. “We wanted to build a house of prayer and learning, where these three religions could co-exist while each retaining their own identity.”

Andreas Nachama, a rabbi who is turning the vision into reality in partnership with a pastor and imam, said: “There are many different ways to God, and each is a good way.” In the House of One, Christians, Muslims and Jews would worship separately, but would visit each other for religious holidays, commemorations and celebrations, he added.

“It is more than a symbol. It is the start of a new era where we show there is no hate between us.”

The House of One will be built on the site of St Peter’s church in Petriplatz, which was damaged during the second world war and demolished in 1964 by the GDR authorities. When the foundations of the church were uncovered more than a decade ago, consideration was given to a memorial or a new church on the site. “But we wanted to create a new kind of sacred building that mirrors Berlin today,” said Stolte. “The initiators are acting as placeholders. This is not a club for monotheistic religions – we want others to join us.”

The federal government and the state of Berlin have between them contributed €30m to the cost of the project, with another €9m coming from donations and fundraising. A new drive for contributions, launched in December, is expected to fill the gap of nearly €8m.

The project has been generally supported by faith communities and the public, said Stolte, although “in the first few years there were some fears that we were mixing religions or trying to create a new religion”.

The inclusion in the planning of people of no faith was a very important aspect of the House of One project, he said. “East Berlin is a very secular place. Religious institutions have to find new language and ways to be relevant, and to make connections.”