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Penzberg Islamic Forum


History


Almost whenever there' s a plan to build a mosque in Germany, it often leads to a heated debate, even before the project has got off the ground, as, for example, in the major cities of Munich and Cologne. Opposition often arises from the fact that many non-Muslim citizens feel that their daily life will be affected by the construction of a large house of prayer in their vicinity. On the other hand, many people also consider the small backyard mosques, hidden from public view, to be objects of suspicion. They are concerned that they could encourage the development of "parallel societies" in Germany.

These are problems which the people in the Upper Bavarian town of Penzberg have not had to deal with. The Muslims there have succeeded in integrating into the wider community. And the town's Muslim leaders believe that the process of building the new mosque has contributed to that state of affairs. In the first three years after it opened, more than 15,000 people have visited the forum. The small Islamic community has developed into an important social factor in Penzberg and environs.

Description


South of Munich, where the Alps rise beyond Lake Starnberg, one is in deepest Bavaria, a region known for its conservative Catholicism. Here of all places, a small Muslim community has built itself a forum with a prayer room in a contemporary architectural style – a courageous undertaking based on the wish for integration. The aim is to overstretch neither the neighboring residents nor the members of the community in their willingness to tolerate and approach one another. Admittedly, the building is not right next to the church in the center of the village, but it is within walking distance on the well-groomed periphery, a residential area on one side of the street, a DIY store on the other.

With its distinctive but in no way provocative or confrontational appearance, the building and its delicate tower fit into the surroundings, where the traditional village structure has already been broken with in the form of different rooflines and ornaments between rusticity and post-war monotony. The architects from Augsburg arranged the prayer room, the communal and administrative rooms, and an apartment under a single roof on an L-shaped ground plan. But the facades, that are clad in pale stone, clearly indicate the different functions of the rooms – to the east above all the slightly recessed full-length blue glass ornamented window.

The entrance features two concrete slabs that swing out of the wall like open gates, inviting visitors into the house in German and Arabic script; the actual door, made of stainless steel, is open to all. Inside, one is greeted by a classical open-plan staircase with a great deal of daylight. To the right, the view opens up into the beautiful prayer room. Shoes must be removed, but anyone is allowed in. From the side, daylight enters between curved concrete slabs, on the front wall the light enters through the blue glass without dazzling. The atmosphere in this space is friendly. The way the light falls draws attention to the ceiling and wall panels, where ornaments are applied to the unclad concrete that can be read as expressions of divine boundlessness. The abstracted star motifs contain The 99 Names of God – such as “The Most Merciful” and “The Utterly Just” – in calligraphy. This design was developed jointly by the artists Lutzenberger + Lutzenberger from Bad Wörishofen and Mohammed Mandi from Abu Dhabi.

The forum’s other rooms can be compared with a parish community center: they offer German lessons, discussion and prayer meetings, the usual. The architect is familiar with the religion, culture, customs and mentality of Islam, and such a knowledge is essential in the development of modern religious architecture. Here in Penzberg, contemporary architecture is contributing with wise restraint to the gradual integration of different beliefs into village structures. Where places of worship cautiously distance themselves from traditional, dogmatic structures and offer comparatively free spatial interpretations of the spiritual, they genuinely promote mutual understanding between believers.

Transparency and modernity

On a first approach, the large glass facade of the new mosque reflects the cars driving past on the main road. If one walks up closer to the glass, one can see the backs of some dozen men who are prostrating themselves towards the south-east, towards Mecca. Here, at the edge of the town, from which one can see the distant Alps, Muslims from Penzberg and the surrounding region have their meeting place. The community has some 600 members.

Not a typical mosque

The young deputy director of the Islam Forum, Gönül Yerli, a woman, guides the guests on to the blue carpet in the hall. They are members of a local Munich branch of the Christian Social Union, the Bavarian sister-party of the national Christian Democrats. Almost every day, Günül Yerli guides groups of visitors through the Islam Forum. Understanding between the religions is an explicit aim of her community. "It's particularly important for us that this mosque," she says, "should be modern in design. And transparency is part of that modernity. That means that certain prejudices and many fears among the people should be laid to rest by the architecture itself. That's why it was a major issue for us that, for example, sixty percent of the building is covered in glass."

The mosque as a place for learning about Germany

One floor below, there's an integration course for women taking place, provided by a state adult education institute together with the Islam Forum. The children of the mostly young women are being looked after in a neighboring room. Social worker Nermina Idriz finds it important that the two provisions are linked. "It's above all a good preparation for kindergarten," she says, "since the children have already become used to quite a lot of things, like the rules, like the most important terms which are used, and so on. We said at the start that this provision for children is important, otherwise the mothers won't come. And if the children are here, we might as well use the opportunity to improve their language skills." In the afternoons there is regular remedial teaching for children, and at the weekends, Gönül Yerli teaches Muslim religion in German, Turkish and Bosnian.

Opening up to non-Muslims

The Islam Forum, which has members from several countries, including Turkey, Bosnia and Albania, places particular emphasis on a European Islam. The imam, Benjamin Idriz, says this means separating themselves from the Islam as they knew it in their home countries, and opening themselves up to non-Muslims.

But the young imam is aware that this policy is not always welcomed among his own members. "What we are doing in Penzberg is new, at least for Bavaria," he says, "and so some of the communities and individual Muslims are sceptical about it. But we know that this is the only way for Europe. As time goes on, I am beginning to hear positive opinions from Muslims. What we are doing here is important and right, and it's the only alternative. In future, most Muslims will go in this direction." The town's head of cultural activities, Thomas Sendl, confirms that the Muslim community's efforts at integration have been effective. "From the point of view of the town, we view what the Muslim community is doing very positively," he says. "The dialogue with the catholic and protestant churches has led to the acceptance of the Muslim community, and it is now seen as well anchored in the local social structures." Already, around a third of the 16,000 residents of Penzberg are said to have visited the Penzberg mosque at least once. But why does the relationship between the religions work so well here? Social worker Nermina Idriz thinks it is because the members of the community see Germany as their home.

In addition, the fact that the members come from different countries has led them to adopt German as their common language, and that has made it much easier for the community to open itself to the wider world.

Resources

https://archnet.org/sites/6737/publications/2243

https://en.qantara.de/content/mosque-construction-and-dialogue-even-the-minaret-is-admired

https://s3.amazonaws.com/media.archnet.org/system/publications/contents/2243/original/FLS2620.pdf?1384758261

Details

Location

82377 Penzberg, Germany

Owners

Islamic Community Gemeinde Penzerg e.V.

Year of Build

2005

Area

1,450 sqm

Drawings

Map

History

Almost whenever there' s a plan to build a mosque in Germany, it often leads to a heated debate, even before the project has got off the ground, as, for example, in the major cities of Munich and Cologne. Opposition often arises from the fact that many non-Muslim citizens feel that their daily life will be affected by the construction of a large house of prayer in their vicinity. On the other hand, many people also consider the small backyard mosques, hidden from public view, to be objects of suspicion. They are concerned that they could encourage the development of "parallel societies" in Germany.

These are problems which the people in the Upper Bavarian town of Penzberg have not had to deal with. The Muslims there have succeeded in integrating into the wider community. And the town's Muslim leaders believe that the process of building the new mosque has contributed to that state of affairs. In the first three years after it opened, more than 15,000 people have visited the forum. The small Islamic community has developed into an important social factor in Penzberg and environs.

Description

South of Munich, where the Alps rise beyond Lake Starnberg, one is in deepest Bavaria, a region known for its conservative Catholicism. Here of all places, a small Muslim community has built itself a forum with a prayer room in a contemporary architectural style – a courageous undertaking based on the wish for integration. The aim is to overstretch neither the neighboring residents nor the members of the community in their willingness to tolerate and approach one another. Admittedly, the building is not right next to the church in the center of the village, but it is within walking distance on the well-groomed periphery, a residential area on one side of the street, a DIY store on the other.

With its distinctive but in no way provocative or confrontational appearance, the building and its delicate tower fit into the surroundings, where the traditional village structure has already been broken with in the form of different rooflines and ornaments between rusticity and post-war monotony. The architects from Augsburg arranged the prayer room, the communal and administrative rooms, and an apartment under a single roof on an L-shaped ground plan. But the facades, that are clad in pale stone, clearly indicate the different functions of the rooms – to the east above all the slightly recessed full-length blue glass ornamented window.

The entrance features two concrete slabs that swing out of the wall like open gates, inviting visitors into the house in German and Arabic script; the actual door, made of stainless steel, is open to all. Inside, one is greeted by a classical open-plan staircase with a great deal of daylight. To the right, the view opens up into the beautiful prayer room. Shoes must be removed, but anyone is allowed in. From the side, daylight enters between curved concrete slabs, on the front wall the light enters through the blue glass without dazzling. The atmosphere in this space is friendly. The way the light falls draws attention to the ceiling and wall panels, where ornaments are applied to the unclad concrete that can be read as expressions of divine boundlessness. The abstracted star motifs contain The 99 Names of God – such as “The Most Merciful” and “The Utterly Just” – in calligraphy. This design was developed jointly by the artists Lutzenberger + Lutzenberger from Bad Wörishofen and Mohammed Mandi from Abu Dhabi.

The forum’s other rooms can be compared with a parish community center: they offer German lessons, discussion and prayer meetings, the usual. The architect is familiar with the religion, culture, customs and mentality of Islam, and such a knowledge is essential in the development of modern religious architecture. Here in Penzberg, contemporary architecture is contributing with wise restraint to the gradual integration of different beliefs into village structures. Where places of worship cautiously distance themselves from traditional, dogmatic structures and offer comparatively free spatial interpretations of the spiritual, they genuinely promote mutual understanding between believers.

Transparency and modernity

On a first approach, the large glass facade of the new mosque reflects the cars driving past on the main road. If one walks up closer to the glass, one can see the backs of some dozen men who are prostrating themselves towards the south-east, towards Mecca. Here, at the edge of the town, from which one can see the distant Alps, Muslims from Penzberg and the surrounding region have their meeting place. The community has some 600 members.

Not a typical mosque

The young deputy director of the Islam Forum, Gönül Yerli, a woman, guides the guests on to the blue carpet in the hall. They are members of a local Munich branch of the Christian Social Union, the Bavarian sister-party of the national Christian Democrats. Almost every day, Günül Yerli guides groups of visitors through the Islam Forum. Understanding between the religions is an explicit aim of her community. "It's particularly important for us that this mosque," she says, "should be modern in design. And transparency is part of that modernity. That means that certain prejudices and many fears among the people should be laid to rest by the architecture itself. That's why it was a major issue for us that, for example, sixty percent of the building is covered in glass."

The mosque as a place for learning about Germany

One floor below, there's an integration course for women taking place, provided by a state adult education institute together with the Islam Forum. The children of the mostly young women are being looked after in a neighboring room. Social worker Nermina Idriz finds it important that the two provisions are linked. "It's above all a good preparation for kindergarten," she says, "since the children have already become used to quite a lot of things, like the rules, like the most important terms which are used, and so on. We said at the start that this provision for children is important, otherwise the mothers won't come. And if the children are here, we might as well use the opportunity to improve their language skills." In the afternoons there is regular remedial teaching for children, and at the weekends, Gönül Yerli teaches Muslim religion in German, Turkish and Bosnian.

Opening up to non-Muslims

The Islam Forum, which has members from several countries, including Turkey, Bosnia and Albania, places particular emphasis on a European Islam. The imam, Benjamin Idriz, says this means separating themselves from the Islam as they knew it in their home countries, and opening themselves up to non-Muslims.

But the young imam is aware that this policy is not always welcomed among his own members. "What we are doing in Penzberg is new, at least for Bavaria," he says, "and so some of the communities and individual Muslims are sceptical about it. But we know that this is the only way for Europe. As time goes on, I am beginning to hear positive opinions from Muslims. What we are doing here is important and right, and it's the only alternative. In future, most Muslims will go in this direction." The town's head of cultural activities, Thomas Sendl, confirms that the Muslim community's efforts at integration have been effective. "From the point of view of the town, we view what the Muslim community is doing very positively," he says. "The dialogue with the catholic and protestant churches has led to the acceptance of the Muslim community, and it is now seen as well anchored in the local social structures." Already, around a third of the 16,000 residents of Penzberg are said to have visited the Penzberg mosque at least once. But why does the relationship between the religions work so well here? Social worker Nermina Idriz thinks it is because the members of the community see Germany as their home.

In addition, the fact that the members come from different countries has led them to adopt German as their common language, and that has made it much easier for the community to open itself to the wider world.

Resources

https://archnet.org/sites/6737/publications/2243

https://en.qantara.de/content/mosque-construction-and-dialogue-even-the-minaret-is-admired

https://s3.amazonaws.com/media.archnet.org/system/publications/contents/2243/original/FLS2620.pdf?1384758261