The Berlin House of One


There will be no survival of our globe without a global ethic:

There will be no peace among the nations without peace among the nations.

There will be no peace among the religions without dialogue and cooperation

Among religions and civilisations.

Hans Kung, Dissident Roman Catholic Theologian

Willi Gude was a deacon in the Baptist Church in Great Missenden in the 1970s. He didn’t come from Buckinghamshire. He had been a German prisoner of war in England during the Second World War and stayed on to marry a local girl, Evelyn. They never had children and are both buried in the Baptist graveyard in the village.

Their relationship had been a brave step by both of them. They did not have an easy time in their early years together. Willi was a gentle soul and would talk of his regret that he was never allowed to become a bell-ringer at the local parish church because of his nationality. He came eventually to the Baptist church where he spoke up for any chance for Christians to work together.

He used to speak of his home church to which he had never returned because it was in East Germany. It had a special building specially designed so that both Lutherans and Roman Catholics could worship.

I thought of Willi as plans for the Berlin House of One have emerged. I am not sure what he would have made of such place where Jew, Christian and Muslim had their own space in one building but I think he would have approved of the vision. His wartime experience had enlarged his heart and widened his horizons – helped along by a Buckinghamshire girl who was a cook for at the big house up on the hill.


There are only two pathways away from conflict. One sows the seeds of the next conflict by half-hearted reconciliation. The other strikes out in an impossibly hopeful new direction and has the courage to not look back. The latter was Willi’s pathway. And may the blessing of Willi Gude be on the efforts of the rabbi, imam and pastor both within and beyond Berlin’s House of One.

Image: Getty Images via BBCOnline

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