Das Buddhistische Haus. A far journey within Berlin.

Stairs of das Buddhistische Haus, 1926. ©Das Buddhistische Haus

For some Buddhism, one has to travel a lot. It brought me to the furthest north of Berlin. As a suburb should, also Frohnau was blossoming on this sunny Sunday in March. The terraces were full of bon viveurs who seemed to be well-off. Young people, hiding behind sunglasses, were lunching in front of the church. The Johanneskirche I’m talking about, with the suspected year 1935 proud on its front wall, let some pensioners go every now and then. During the quarter walk from the station to the Buddhistische Haus (Buddhist House), I thought about the type of bourgeois day trippers I may bump into. These kind off people who buy incense at Rossmann, and give their vegetarian cousin a Buddha at the Karstadt for her birthday. Happily, I knew that the history behind the Buddhistisches Haus would be worth my ‘far journey’. After all, the Buddhist House nowadays is the oldest tempel of Europe: older ones did not make their way through the 20th century…

Paul Dahlke and his teacher Ven. Suriyagoda Sumangala Thera. ±1920. ©Das Buddhistische Haus

For establishing a Buddhist centre, one needs -first of all- an entrepreneurial Buddhist. Since the second half of the 19th century, they were to be found in Europe – albeit extraordinarily rare. One of them was the travelling, homeopathic doctor Paul Dahlke. He read something about Buddhism in books from Schoppenhauer, before he globe-trotted in 1898/9. At the isle of Ceylon, he initially wasn’t that enthusiastic about Buddhism. Dahlke nevertheless gave it another chance during his second world journey in 1900. He returned to Germany as a Buddhist – and his 294 pages counting ‘Aufsätze zum Verständnis des Buddhismus‘ (‘Report for the insight of Buddhism’) was published in 1903 already. The upcoming years, Dahlke travelled between Germany and Asia, until the First World War kept him from doing it. It is plausible that he worked as a doctor during the war. In the meanwhile, he wrote and published books about homeopathic medical science.

Buddha Memorial at the isle of Sylt, 1920s/1930s. (Demolished in 1939) ©Das Buddhistische Haus

After WWI ended, Dahlke could realis his vocation again. Although he lived in a villa at Berlin-Zehlendorf, he was given disposal over five hectares at the Frisian Island of Sylt, close to the Danish border. In dedication of Buddha, Dahlke realised a brick monument here – before he planned to build a Buddhist monastery. In 1920, when tangible plans were made to build the  Hindenburgdamm, Paul Dahlke left the peninsula to be. In the autumn of 1919, Dahlke also owned a hill in the Berlin suburb Frohnau, which would be gobbled up by the German capital the very next year. In the following couple of years, the Buddhist House was realised. An esoteric-complex with a garden, a tempel and a main building with Asian style-elements. Paul Dalke left his villa for the Buddhist House in 1924. Four years later, the homeopath died due a flue, after his health was weakened by tropical diseases already. The Buddhist House was kind off taken over by his sister, although the philosopher and Buddhalogist Volker Zotz was employed to carry out the interpretation of the Buddhist religion.

Tempel at das Buddhistische Haus, 1925. ©Das Buddhistische Haus.

The rest of its history, the Buddhist House slowly declined. What exactly happened in the Nazi-period is unknown to me. At some point, the peaceful doctrine was censored, although I don’t know when and at which timing. After World War II, the Buddhist House happened to be in the Western sector. In the 1950s, an entire demolition was considered. It was precaused by the demand of Asoka Weeraratna, the secretary of the German Dharmaduta Society. Weeratna and his foundation bought the accommodation in 1957 and renovated it -slowly- in the next two decades. The houses were renewed, a library was installed and a centre for meditation was opened. After all of this, I get the impression that nothing really happened again.

Bhante Nyanavimala, next to the snake Wall at the Buddhistisches Haus, 1969. ©Das Buddhistische Haus

Nowadays, many parts look like they could use a renovation again. The stairs at the main entrance, as well as the Snake wall, seem to crumble again. The stone footpath was rather damaged as well, and taken over by kind of red ants. The five souls who are reincarnated as homo sapiens I’ve seen here, were setting all silent on a bench or a stone. “Going with your camera to a Buddhist temple as a day tripper? …At which warehouse would he buy his Buddha?” they may have though, but it remained silent. I don’t feel that zen with this sort of introversion, although it kind off belongs to this peaceful world-religion. And I realised that I was projecting my own thoughts and questions on these people who didn’t say a word. I asked myself, should I capture this secret place with my photo-camera and spread it into the digital? Is this good for my karma? I really had to think about this. Living the parole ‘go native’, I’ve unleashed my shoes and visited the meditation hall – without making a snapshot.

Das Buddhistische Haus, front-view (Berlin-Frohnau, March 2014. Photo by Joep de Visser)

Das Buddhistische Haus, details at the entrance. (Berlin-Frohnau, March 2014. Photo by Joep de Visser)

Das Buddhistische Haus. Details at the entrance (Berlin-Frohnau, March 2014. Photo by Joep de Visser)

 Das Buddhistische Haus, stair and the front-view. (Berlin-Frohnau, March 2014. Photo by Joep de Visser)

Das Buddhistische Haus. Detail at the door. (Berlin-Frohnau, March 2014. Photo by Joep de Visser)Das Buddhistische Haus. Side-view. (Berlin-Frohnau, March 2014. Photo by Joep de Visser)

Das Buddhistische Haus, side-view(Berlin-Frohnau, March 2014. Photo by Joep de Visser)Das Buddhistische Haus. Side-view (Berlin-Frohnau, March 2014. Photo by Joep de Visser)Das Buddhistische Haus. View at its backside. (Berlin-Frohnau, March 2014. Photo by Joep de Visser) Das Buddhistische Haus. Man sitting in front. (Berlin-Frohnau, March 2014. Photo by Joep de Visser)Das Buddhistische Haus. Details in front of the entrance to the tempel. (Berlin-Frohnau, March 2014. Photo by Joep de Visser)Courtyard of das Buddhistische Haus, 1925

Das Buddhistische Haus. Details in front of the entrance to the library. (Berlin-Frohnau, March 2014. Photo by Joep de Visser)Das Buddhistische Haus. Details in the garden. (Berlin-Frohnau, March 2014. Photo by Joep de Visser)
Das Buddhistische Haus. Details in the garden (Berlin-Frohnau, March 2014. Photo by Joep de Visser)

Garten of das Buddhistisches Haus, 1925

Das Buddhistische Haus. Detail in the garden. (Berlin-Frohnau, March 2014. Photo by Joep de Visser) Das Buddhistische Haus. Detail in the garden (Berlin-Frohnau, March 2014. Photo by Joep de Visser) Das Buddhistische Haus. Backside view (Berlin-Frohnau, March 2014. Photo by Joep de Visser)

Das Buddhistische Haus. Another entrance. (Berlin-Frohnau, March 2014. Photo by Joep de Visser)

Side gate of das Buddhistisches Haus, 1927

Das Buddhistische Haus. Sideview, standing down. (Berlin-Frohnau, March 2014. Photo by Joep de Visser)

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