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Bonhoeffer House: Place of Memorial and Encounter

Purpose of the House

“After 20 Years”

~A Report from 2007~

The Purpose of the Bonhoeffer House

Place of Memorial and Encounter

Address: Marienburger Allee 43, Berlin-Charlottenburg

1.         The Bonhoeffer House: A Place of Memorial and Encounter for the Protestant Church of Berlin, Brandenburg, and Schlessian Oberlausitz

            On June 1, 1987, the Bonhoeffer House, with the reconstructed study-room of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and a permanent exhibition on his life and work, began as a place of memorial and encounter for the provincial Church.  The House is open to groups and individual visitors from the city of Berlin and the surrounding area, and especially for guests from the wider church community, who are engaged in a quest and who are drawn to a remembrance and encounter with those who once lived in this place.

Bonhoeffer House in Berlin
Bonhoeffer House in Berlin

Remembrance and engagement 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 came to 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 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 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 for their retirement, the conspiratorial planning for resistance took place and it was here that Bonhoeffer wrote sections of his Ethics.  It was also here that he was arrested by the Gestapo on April 5, 1943.

It would have been possible to establish this historically significant house simply as a commemorative site. However, utilizing the opportunity that emerged in the context of the 1980s to develop an alternative conception in cooperative efforts that would be both ecumenical and barrier-breaking, the decision was made to use the house not as a purely commemorative site but rather as a place of memorial and encounter.  To serve this objective, a permanent exhibition was set up, consisting of nine tableaux that document the life and work of Dietrich Bonhoeffer against the background of his time.  The exhibition is set within the context of East-West history and has proved itself relevant to the present day.

2.         The Conception of the Bonhoeffer House as a Setting dedicated to Ecumenical Consultation and Efforts to Overcome Barriers

The conception of a place for memorial and encounter would be developed in a participatory, creative, 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 such a place of memorial and encounter was carried forward by the President of the Synod of Berlin-Brandenburg [Berlin-West] of the Protestant Church of Germany, Professor Helmut Reihlen, Bonhoeffer’s close associates and contemporaries, Professor Eberhard and Renate Bethge as well as Bishop Albrecht Schönherr (The Protestant Church of Berlin-Brandenburg in the German Democratic Republic), together with Pastors-to-Students Burchkard Scheffler and Claus P. Wagener from the Protestant Student Community 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, Professor Michael Lukens and Professor James Patrick Kelley from the International Bonhoeffer Society (English Language Section).

Essential contributions in this founding effort came from the provisional Board of Directors of the Bonhoeffer House, and its Chair, Pastor Dr. Rhein (Peace Congregation Berlin).  Others to be included in this special recognition are Pastor Dr. Berend Wellmann, Pastor Manfred Fischer (Protestant Church of the Reconciliation) and Professor Klaus Peter Jörns (Protestant Graduate School/Kirchliche Hochschule Berlin).

The renovation of the House was planned and implemented as a student project of the Protestant Student Community of the Technical University (Berlin) and the Protestant Graduate School in Berlin (West) in cooperation with the Graduate School of Architecture of the Technical University, under the direction of Professor Peter Lehrecke.

Several persons were responsible for the conception and arrangement of the exhibition: Pastor Hans-Joachim Curth (Protestant Education Office, Berlin [West], Karl-Heinz Horn (Protestant Media Center, Berlin [West]), Thomas Koch (Central Office of Protestant Student Communities in the German Federal Republic and Berlin [Berlin]), Claus P. Wagener (Protestant Student Community at the Technical University and Graduate School for Art, Berlin [West]), Matthias Frach (Graphic Artist, Association of Art Educators 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)       In relation to the memory of the person, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and the wider Bonhoeffer family, the highest value would be placed upon Bonhoeffer’s Christian witness, his theological work as well as his ecumenical and political engagement.

            (2)       The House is open to visiting individuals and groups who wish, in relation to concerns within their own setting, to consider the life, work, and significance of Bonhoeffer in both the past and present.

3.1.      The Bonhoeffer House as a Place for the Church in 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 world, especially in political and church conflicts, for example in South Africa and South Korea.  In the international 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 as a Place for Group Visits and 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 practical observations in the formulation of questions.  The expectations that people who are not particularly trained in theological matters bring with them sets the agenda of the House (along with its improvisational style).  The tour of the permanent exhibition and Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s reconstructed study-room are supplemented by thematic and spiritual offerings from the perspective of the House. On special occasions, invitations are offered to symposia, conversations, and musical events. Quite frequently, official guests of the regional Church visit the House.

3.3.      The Bonhoeffer House as the Site for Scholarly Colloquia 

            The Bonhoeffer House offers at the same time an impressive place for a praxis-oriented yet scholarly discussion 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.  Professional relationships between the Governing Board of the House with scholarly and university arenas serve to promote possibilities for study and research in the House and fosters scholarly interchange, inspired in this place through the immediate connection to Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life-story.

3.4       The Bonhoeffer House: a Challenge to Encounter

            The Bonhoeffer House is one of the few places in our Church, in which the interchange between diverse approaches of community-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 toward understanding that opens up a discourse with the secular as well.  This objective can also be furthered through professional exchange with those 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 to Memorial

            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 Archiv of discussions with contemporary material, to create a bilingual 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 by Prof. Michael B. Lukens (2009)]

Members of the Governing Board:

Dr. Renate Bethge

Pastor Gottfried Brezger (Chair)

Dr. Klaus-Dieter Geisler,

Director Harald Kussin

Pastor Dr. Christian Löhr,

Dr. Christoph Regierer,

Prof. Dr. Helmut Reihen

Matthias Röhm,

Pastor Dr. Andreas Uecker,

Pastor Meike Völker,

Claus P. Wagener

Dr. Ralf Wüstenberg,

Beate Thomas (Associate to the Board)

Knut Hämmerling (House staff)

Pastor Burckhard Scheffler (Director, Bonhoeffer House)

Visit the Bonhoeffer House: Place of Memorial and Encounter, Marienburger Allee 43 (10 minutes walk from the S-Bahn Heerstrasse Station).

Want to know more about the Bonhoeffer Haus? Check out this book by Laura Fabrycky.

In Keys to Bonhoeffer’s Haus, Laura M. Fabrycky, an American guide of the Bonhoeffer-Haus in Berlin, takes readers on a tour of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s home, city, and world. She shares the keys she has discovered there–the many sources of Bonhoeffer’s identity, his practices of Scripture meditation and prayer, his willingness to cross boundaries and befriend people all around the world–that have unlocked her understanding of her own life and responsibilities in light of Bonhoeffer’s wisdom.


The English Language Section is dedicated to advancing the theology and legacy of German pastor-theologian and Nazi resister, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in the academy, church, and world, and has been on the forefront of this work for the last fifty years.

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