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Abrahamic religions under one Berlin roof

Berlin’s House of One is a crowd-sourced project creating the first specifically designed multifaith building.

BEIRUT: While airport terminals might boast – admittedly drab – multifaith prayer rooms, the House of One project in Berlin seeks to become the first specifically designed building to host a mosque, a church and a synagogue all under one roof.

The ambitious project officially launched earlier this month, and hopes to raise a rather staggering 43.5 million euros ($59 million) before it can be built, potentially as early as 2018.

The idea began when excavations in the late 2000s led to the discovery of an ancient church, dating back to the 13th century.

“The site was the medieval birthplace of the city, with the earliest settlements of what we now call Berlin,” explains Anna Poeschel, a spokesperson for the House of One.

The Christian congregation to which she belongs was asked to develop the site, but instead of simply building a new church, they opted for a multifaith project.

“It’s a reaction to how the city has changed: we see changes in Berlin, it’s becoming more and more international,” Poeschel says, adding that the Jewish and Muslim populations are increasing, but that mosques in particular remain a rarity in the city.

They are often housed in ad-hoc buildings, such as backyards, rather than purpose built spaces, and any large mosques are in the suburbs, rather than the city center.

Partners in the Jewish and Muslim communities were found, and the project has been worked on communally since.

The decision to crowd fund the finances came from not wanting any high profile donors coming from one of the three Abrahamic religions.

“It’s a grassroots project, and we wanted to stay very democratic, we want to give lots of people in the world the opportunity to become part of this project and to keep it equally split between the three religions,” Poeschel says.

Since the project launch, House of One has attracted media and popular attention from around the world, with people from Hong Kong and Australia among those donating a minimum of 10 euros to purchase one brick for the building. “The idea has resonated in the world. And now we need to translate that into funding.”

The House of One will have three separate prayer rooms all linked by one common area, and the modernist architecture – created by local firm Kuehn Malvezzi – is specific to the site, Poeschel says. “It’s contemporary architecture with a spiritual quality.”

The shared space will be used for shared prayers and for discussions and exhibitions, which will also aim at attracting Berlin’s secular population – which accounts for around 60 percent – into the debate.

“We want to engage all people, and hold discussions that are part of the popular debate today, such as religion’s place in public life.”

But such an unorthodox idea has not been without criticism, Poeschel says, from conservative elements, of both Islam and Christianity.

“The Jewish quarters have been quieter,” she adds.

Donations can be made online at http://house-of-one.org/, where donors can leave messages. As one from the U.K. wrote, “Although I do not believe in any of these religions, this is a bloody good idea!”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 28, 2014, on page 8.

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Summary

While airport terminals might boast – admittedly drab – multifaith prayer rooms, the House of One project in Berlin seeks to become the first specifically designed building to host a mosque, a church and a synagogue all under one roof.

Partners in the Jewish and Muslim communities were found, and the project has been worked on communally since.

The decision to crowd fund the finances came from not wanting any high profile donors coming from one of the three Abrahamic religions.

Since the project launch, House of One has attracted media and popular attention from around the world, with people from Hong Kong and Australia among those donating a minimum of 10 euros to purchase one brick for the building.


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