Politics need to ensure that the city remains accessible to everyone. Furthermore, the ideal city of the future would be a little bit more intelligent than today’s metropolises: It would be better at organizing itself and communicating its aches and pains; better at letting us know where it requires immediate attention or even an entire rethink.

Some of this is already happening today. Many groups, urban initiatives, or social movements highlight the problems of our cities. Different actors of civil society join forces to tackle the issues faced by their immediate surroundings. This participatory approach is open to many different methods that could make a difference – yet we need more of these in order to tackle tomorrow’s issues and tasks in time.

1024px-Berlin_Dom_von Cate91 (Eigenes Werk) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (httpcreativecommons.orglicensesby-sa3.0) oder GFDL (httpwww.gnu.orgcop
Berlin Dom, photo: Cate 91, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In future, religious groups and protagonists will also play a major role in and for the future city since these convocations provide hubs and meeting places for people of similar interests. Here, they come together to discuss and address issues – and, naturally, to pray or conduct other rituals. At the same time, these religious motivations are less important for many of those involved. Although the Friday or Sunday prayer congregations might be driven by a shared belief, more often than not this is superseded by a shared urge for exchange and communion with others. To this day, religious groups provide a welcome social anchor for many people in the same community; one that serves as a root and starting point for communal activities, neighborhood projects, and the debate of local problems and solutions. And that’s what the old-fashioned notion of brotherly love is all about – extending our focus to others, beyond our own existence.

Nevertheless – and by definition – a group always includes and excludes at the same time. Those who are part of it are ‘in.’ Those who don’t belong remain outside – whether by choice or dictated by the group’s criteria. This notion, incidentally, applies to nation states as much as cities or religious groups. Most of these groups, however, are open to exchange between different people. Take a wonderful example that is thriving in the city of Munich: Here, an abandoned factory hosts a different religious community on every level, but also offers several communal areas for shared activities beyond religious boundaries and for plenty of exchange between the different groups.

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Deutscher Dom on Gendarmenmarkt in Berlin-Mitte, photo: Beek100, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Berlin has long been known as a ‘godless city.’ However, the opposite is true: The metropolis plays host to around 300 religious communities, making Berlin the most religiously active city in Germany (per capita). Immigration over the past 50-60 years has played a huge role in adding to the vibrancy and diversity of Berlin’s religious spectrum, while many new arrivals – Christian and otherwise – enter the stage. Over the last few years, the German capital has seen the arrival of countless of Buddhist centers, newly erected mosques, and recently founded Christian communities. The yearning for religion and spirituality has left a visible mark on Berlin’s culture and skyline.

At the same time, religions remain in flux, just like their physical environment. Take the novel coinage of the ‘post-secular city,’ which describes the phenomenon of religions existing at certain times in certain places for certain occasions and topics. A development and evolution that requires new formats, not necessarily the concrete physical space of a ‘church,’ for religious and communal experiences. Just like London and other cities, where this has been common practice for the past few decades, Germany might witness the conversion of churches into apartments or galleries, shifting religious gatherings to other, multi-purpose spaces like theaters or bars.

Berlin,_Mitte,_Rosa-Luxemburg-Strasse_30,_Wohnanlage_und_Kino_Babylon_By Beek100 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (httpcreativecommons.or
The Cinema Babylon at Rosa-Luxemburg-Straße No. 30 in Berlin-Mitte. It was built in 1927 in connection with a residential building to a design by Hans Poelzig. The whole complex has been designated as a historic landmark., photo: Beek100, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In this spirit, the BerlinProjekt offers a Sunday morning service at the city’s Babylon cinema in Mitte, followed by another gathering at the Betahaus co-working space in Kreuzberg. These official services are flanked by so-called sofa groups, inviting kindred spirits to join regular meetings at someone’s home to spend time with friends and acquaintances and, at the same time, discuss topics and issues related to their shared belief. A marked – and welcome – contrast to the established church and its traditional offerings.

Apparently, the BerlinProjekt and similar new communities meet the needs of many Berliners – just in a slightly different way.

Text: Sebastian Schlüter
Header image: ommi/ photocase.com