The Purpose of the Bonhoeffer-House,
Memorial and Place of Encounter
Marienburger Allee 43, Berlin-Charlottenburg
1 The Bonhoeffer-House – Memorial and Place of Encounter
of the Evangelical Church Berlin-Brandenburg-Silesian Oberlausitz
On June 1, 1987, the Bonhoeffer House opened as a memorial and place of encounter of the regional Church, with the reconstructed study of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and a permanent exhibition on his life and work. The House is open to groups and individual visitors from near and far and especially for guests from the wider ecumenical church community, who are engaged in a quest and who are drawn to a remembrance and encounter with the one who once lived in this place.
Remembrance and encounter with Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life and work remains vibrant among us. In his theological development of biblical witness, his expression of a more experiential spirituality, his ecumenical breadth and his political resistance against National Socialism (Nazism), he became a witness of his own faith which finds its center in Jesus Christ. He protested the denial of rights and the murder of Jews early and decisively. In the Confessing Church and in the ecumenical movement, he was not able to convince the majority of his decisions. In personal responsibility for his faith, he took the path of conspiracy, even unto death. In this way, his life and work remain even today in concrete church and political questions a challenge for faith and theology, for common life and developing structures in congregations and churches, for our responsibility, grounded in Christ as the center, for the other and for the world.
Here, in the home of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s parents at Marienburger Allee 43, Berlin-Charlottenburg, which his parents, Karl and Paula Bonhoeffer, built in 1935 for their retirement, conspiratorial conversations for resistance took place. This was the place where he wrote sections of his Ethics. It was here that the was arrested by the Gestapo on April 5, 1943.
It would have been possible to establish this historically significant house simply as a memorial. Instead, utilizing the opportunity that emerged in the context of the mid-1980s to develop an alternative conception in cooperative efforts that would both be ecumenical and would transcend the barriers caused by the Wall, the decision was made to use the house not as a commemorative site, but rather as a place of memory and encounter. A permanent exhibition now serves this purpose, consisting of nine panels that document the life and work of Dietrich Bonhoeffer against the background of his time. The exhibition was conceived within the East-West context and has proven itself relevant to this day.
2 The Conception of the Bonhoeffer House as a Result of Ecumenical Consultation
and Efforts to Transcend Divisions between East and West
The conception of a memorial and place of encounter was developed in a participatory, intergenerational and interdisciplinary process of discussion, in which a variety of persons and institutions from church, congregational, university, and ecumenical leadership were involved.
The initiative for the establishment of the Bonhoeffer House was carried forward by the President of the Synod of the Evangelical Church Berlin-Brandenburg [Berlin-West], Prof. Helmut Reihlen, Bonhoeffer’s close associates and contemporaries, Prof. Eberhard and Renate Bethge as well as Bishop Albrecht Schönherr (Evangelical Church of Berlin-Brandenburg in the German Democratic Republic), together with campus minister Rev. Burckhard Scheffler and Claus P. Wagener from the Protestant Student Congregation at the Technical University and the Graduate School of the Arts, Berlin [West], which had earlier used the House as a self-governing student residence, and on the American side, Prof. James Patrick Kelley and Prof. Michael Lukens from the International Bonhoeffer Society (English Language Section).
Essential contributions in this founding effort came from the provisional Governing Board of the Bonhoeffer House, from its Chair, Rev. Dr. Rhein (Protestant Peace Congregation Berlin). Others to be included in this special recognition are Rev. Dr. Berend Wellmann, Rev. Manfred Fischer (Protestant Congregation of the Reconciliation) and Prof. Klaus Peter Jörns (Protestant Graduate School Berlin).
The renovation of the House was planned and implemented as a student project of the Protestant Student Congregation of the Technical University (Berlin) and the Graduate School of the Arts in Berlin [West] in cooperation with the Faculty of Architecture of the Technical University, under the direction of Prof. Peter Lehrecke.
Several persons were responsible for the conception and arrangement of the exhibition: Rev. Hans-Joachim Curth (Protestant Education Office, Berlin [West], Karl-Heinz Horn (Protestant Media Center, Berlin [West]), Thomas Koch (Central Office of Protestant Student Congregations in the Federal Republic of Germany and Berlin [West]), Claus P. Wagener (Protestant Student Congregation at the Technical University and Graduate School of the Arts, Berlin [West], Matthias Frach (Graphic Artist, Association of Creative Artists in the German Democratic Republic).
3 Memorial and Encounter: The House at the Intersection of Diverse Intentions
in the Reception of the Bonhoeffer Legacy
The organization of the Bonhoeffer House on December 20, 1988, as a place of memorial and encounter, cited the following objectives:
(1) Aside from remembering the person, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and the Bonhoeffer family, the highest
value is to be placed upon Bonhoeffer’s Christian witness, his theological work, as well as his
ecumenical and political engagement.
(2) The House is open to individual guests and groups who wish, in light of the objectives of the House,
to consider the life, work, and significance of Bonhoeffer in both the past and present as it relates
to their own situation.
3.1 The Bonhoeffer-House – a Place of the Regional Church in an Ecumenical Context
Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s challenges as “theologian, Christian, and contemporary” (Eberhard Bethge), his encouragement of discipleship in the terms of the Sermon on the Mount, and his initiatives toward a new understanding of the significance of Christology for the »world come of age« and a »non-religious interpretation« have had an impact throughout the whole ecumenical world, especially in political and church conflicts, for example in South Africa and South Korea. In the transatlantic connections with friends in the English Language Section of the International Bonhoeffer Society, an important contribution in the realization of the conception from 1988 of memorial and encounter has already been achieved. This exchange is actively maintained by the visitors from the USA and by the Bethge Residential Scholars program.
3.2 The Bonhoeffer House – a Place for Visitors from Congregations and Christian Initiatives
The Bonhoeffer House has a responsibility to congregational groups as well as to church and Christian initiatives from near and far to provide space for a genuine memorial and encounter with the life and work of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. For such group visits, the House offers consultation, accompaniment, information and an opportunity for physical awareness in the formulation of their questions. In particular, the expectations that people who are not trained in theological matters bring with them sets the agenda of the House, often in a freely improvised style. The tour of the permanent exhibition and Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s reconstructed study are supplemented by thematic and spiritual offerings provided by the House. On special occasions, invitations are offered to symposia, conversations, and musical events in the House. Quite frequently, official guests of the regional Church visit the House.
3.3 The Bonhoeffer House – a Place for Scholarly Colloquia
The Bonhoeffer House offers at the same time an impressive place for a praxis-oriented yet scholarly examination of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life and work and the challenges that arise from that life and work, which must always be perceived and embraced by the Church and its theology in new and concrete ways. Personal relationships between the Governing Board of the House with the scholarly, university arenas and development of possibilities for such scholarly work in the House promote this scholarly interchange, inspired in this place through the immediate connection to Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life-story.
3.4 The Bonhoeffer House – a Challenge for Encounter
The Bonhoeffer House is one of the few places in our Church, in which the interchange between diverse approaches of congregation-based practices in common life and scholarly, academic perspectives is a core objective. For in any encounter with the life and work of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, there is an encounter with people, who move from differing perceptions to draw closer to one another. Dietrich Bonhoeffer grounded faith in its manifold dimensions in Jesus Christ as the Center. Arising from this Center, supported didactically, there are ways that can be found towards an understanding that also and specifically opens up a discourse with the secular. This objective may also be furthered through professional exchange with partners within the church and those outside the church concerning their pedagogical experiences in efforts dealing with memorial and encounter.
3.5 The Bonhoeffer House – a Challenge for Remembrance
The Bonhoeffer House is at the same time a place in which the memorial is kept alive through historical documentation. It would then be important to strengthen the unpaid working capacity that is at the disposal of the House in order, besides the accompaniment and service of visitors to the House, to enhance the extensive Archive of video conversations with Bonhoeffer’s contemporaries, to do a bilingual update of the Catalog, to bring the Internet presentation up to the desired standard, to intensify the publicity effort and to cultivate and expand the educational reach of the House in collaboration with other partners who are engaged in memorial and encounter.
Approved by the Governing Board on November 22, 2007
English Translation (May 2009): Prof. Michael Lukens,
in cooperation with Rev. Burckhard Scheffler and Knut Hämmerling