Eight years ago, archaeologists digging in a parking lot in the middle of Berlin uncovered layers of ruins. A church, first built in the 13th century, had been rebuilt again and again over the centuries–after fires and other disasters–until it was destroyed in World War II and finally paved over.
Now the church that owns the property plans to rebuild one more time. But instead of a chapel, they hope to build what might be the world’s first all-in-one church/synagogue/mosque, called the House of One.
“They had to face the question of what do we do with this ground, and what do we want to give back to the city–what do we need in this time?” says Frithjof Timm, a theological speaker for the House of One.
It started from a simple idea to bring people together in the area. “The minister had the vision that there could be a table on this former parking lot,” says Timm. “People from different religions could sit together, and eat together, and be together.”
But they decided to take it further, and launched a competition to design a building that would simultaneously include sacred spaces for Jews, Muslims, and Christians. A rabbi and imam partnered with the minister to work on the plans.
From one perspective, it was a practical decision. “In Berlin we have a lot of people who are not that religious or non-religious,” Timm says. “So we don’t have that much money to keep a new church alive. We don’t have so many Christian people to fill up a new church.”
More importantly, it’s meant to be a symbol of what Berlin stands for today. The place where Hitler signed death warrants for 6 million Jews is now the city with the fastest-growing Jewish population in the world. And as more refugees stream into Germany, it’s also home to a very quickly growing population of Muslims.
The design includes a central common space, and three equally sized (but differently shaped) spaces for each religion. Everyone comes in through the same front door.
“We have only one entrance in the building,” says Timm. “So everyone who is going to pray–whether Jewish or Muslim or Christian–has to use this one entrance. The entrance leads to the common room, and from the common room there’s a stair going up to the second floor and then you decide which way you go.”
Though some individuals have argued against it in the Muslim community, the response has been mostly positive. Each of the spaces respects, as much as possible, orthodox practices, with places to wash feet in the mosque, or separate spaces for men and women for orthodox services in the synagogue. Being in the building doesn’t mean anyone has to change anything about their own faith.
“You don’t have to give up your own religion,” Timm says. “If you’re not afraid to look around and see what are the other religions are doing, it can enrich your life and your faith.”
The organization started raising money last year, but have a long way to go–so far, they’ve raised about €1 million out of €43 million needed (a basic version of the design would cost €10 million).
Something similar may happen first in the U.S. The Tri-Faith Initiative in Omaha, Nebraska–with a synagogue, church and mosque next to each other on the same campus–is already under construction. In Switzerland, a building that houses eight religions opened in 2014.
The House of One thinks it needs to happen in Berlin as well, especially now. “We hope this will shine out in the world–that this will go out to the world and be a sign to bring more peace between people,” Timm says. “Especially at this time when war comes from ISIS, and after what happened in Paris.”