Reconstruction of the Bornplatz synagogue in Hamburg

Wednesday, 9 November 2022 - 12:00 pm (CET/MEZ) Berlin | Author/Destination:
Category/Kategorie: General, Hamburg
Reading Time:  15 minutes

Bornplatz synagogue in 1906, right after the opening © Knackstedt & Näther - Stiftung Historische Museen

Bornplatz synagogue in 1906, right after the opening © Knackstedt & Näther – Stiftung Historische Museen

The synagogue on Bornplatz in Hamburg‘s Grindelviertel was inaugurated in 1906 and was one of the largest synagogues in Germany. It served as the main synagogue for the German-Israelite Community (DIG). In the immediate vicinity, the building of the Talmud Torah School was erected in 1911. The synagogue was devastated during the Kristallnacht pogrom on 9 November 1938, set on fire shortly afterwards and the ruins were demolished in 1939 by the local Nazi regime at the expense of the Jewish community. Fifty years after the destruction, the former location was redesigned, and since then a floor mosaic has indicated the location of the synagogue. Since 2019, the Jewish community, the Central Council of Jews in Germany and several organizations have been working to rebuild the synagogue. In February 2020, an application for a feasibility study was unanimously accepted by the Hamburg Parliament. In November 2020, the budget committee of the Bundestag released 65 million euros for the restoration of the synagogue.

In 1902, the community acquired a building site for a synagogue from the city of Hamburg for 90,459 marks. It included the properties at Bornplatz 8 (today Allende- and Joseph-Carlebach-Platz), Binderstraße 36 and Grindelhof 26. The city reserved a right of repurchase in the event that the property was no longer suitable for the specific purpose, location of the synagogue and parish hall, would be needed. The construction of the free-standing and representative synagogue, one of the largest in Northern Europe, began in 1904. The size of the synagogue is comparable to the reform synagogue of the Israelite Temple Association at Oberstraße 120 in Hamburg-Harvestehude, which was inaugurated in 1931. This also held 1200 seats. The design came from the architect Semmy Engel and the government architect Ernst Friedheim. Their two plans, originally submitted separately, were combined into one and construction was entrusted to both master builders. On 13 September 1906, the new building could be handed over to its destination. The Chief Rabbi at the time, Markus Hirsch, gave a sermon. The synagogue was built in the neo-Romanesque style and was crowned by a dome covered with brown-glazed bricks and a steel construction under the cladding. With a height of almost 40 meters, it was visible from afar. The facades of the modern concrete building were also faced with dark clinker bricks (plinth zone) and ocher-colored brick on top, alternating with architectural decorations (cornices, parapets, jambs and columns) made of red Main sandstone. The round windows were glazed with colored glass. The main entrance in the west towards the Grindelberg was accessible via a terrace. Behind the main building were outbuildings with a weekday synagogue, a mikveh and administrative offices. The synagogue offered 1200 seats, 500 of them for women, who according to orthodox tradition sat separately from the men on a gallery. Another gallery was intended for a choir. The Torah ark, a gift from the Warburg family, was considered the highlight of the facility. It was made of black, white and red marble with ornaments of gold-colored bronze. The Bornplatz synagogue was Hamburg’s first free-standing synagogue in an exposed location. Although the old Kohlhöfen synagogue had a visible facade, it was set back from the street front. The Israelite temple on Poolstrasse and the New Dammtor Synagogue were hidden behind front buildings. The neo-Romanesque style of the new synagogue, which was also very popular in church building, was deliberately chosen by the congregation as a “sign of the allegedly achieved equality”.

Memorial plague © Ajepbah/cc-by-sa-3.0 Synagogue monument © Ajepbah/cc-by-sa-3.0 Synagogue monument © Catrin Pieri/cc-by-3.0 Bornplatz synagogue in 1906, right after the opening © Knackstedt & Näther - Stiftung Historische Museen
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Bornplatz synagogue in 1906, right after the opening © Knackstedt & Näther - Stiftung Historische Museen
At first, only a commemorative plaque on the east wall of the bunker reminded of the former synagogue. The former site of the synagogue served as a parking lot for the university. The preserved building of the Talmud Torah school was owned by the city and was used by the librarianship department of the Hamburg University of Applied Sciences. The square was redesigned for the fiftieth anniversary of the destruction of the synagogue. Planning began in 1986. The first artist draft called for the Hebrew lettering “Avoda,” meaning temple worship. However, the draft was rejected because it did not seem clear enough. The second, implemented draft by the artist Margrit Kahl depicts the floor plan and the vaulted ceiling of the synagogue on the floor. The location and size of the building are represented by dark mosaic paving, the lines of the vaulted ceiling are emphasized by polished black granite stones. The square is only accessible to pedestrians and the environment is designed with trees and benches. A plaque indicates its importance. On the side of the former bunker facing the synagogue monument there is a plaque with the inscription: “May the future protect the descendants from injustice”. The eastern part of the former Bornplatz has been named after Joseph Carlebach since 1989. In 2004, at the instigation of the Grindelhof citizens’ initiative, another plaque was inaugurated, providing information about the history of the synagogue and the memorial site. The Talmud Torah School building was returned to the Jewish community in 2004. Since it was renovated, it has once again housed a Jewish elementary school and a community center. In January 2020, the Hamburg Senate announced that it would transfer the heritable building right for an adjacent property to the municipality for 60 years, lease-free, in order to accommodate the growth of the municipality.

In November 2019, a public debate arose in Hamburg about the possible reconstruction of the synagogue. It was triggered by an interview by the Hamburger Abendblatt with the state rabbi Shlomo Bistritzky. The proposal to rebuild the synagogue received broad social approval within a short period of time. There are also negative voices, even from Israel. Hamburg’s Mayor Peter Tschentscher and Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz support the reconstruction project. The state rabbi Shlomo Bistritzky, the Bornplatz synagogue reconstruction initiative and several organizations and prominent advocates support a reconstruction of the Bornplatz synagogue that is as close to the original as possible. The Hamburg association “From Holocaust to New Life”, an association of 17 Holocaust survivors, also supports the plans. Muslim and Christian representatives and communities also support the project. In a signature campaign, 107,000 supporters spoke out in favor of the reconstruction project on Bornplatz. At a meeting on the night of 14 November, the Budget Committee of the German Bundestag made available 600,000 euros to finance a feasibility study. At its meeting on 12 February 2020, the Hamburg Parliament unanimously voted in favor of reconstruction. To this end, various variants are to be examined in a feasibility study. In November 2020, the budget committee of the Bundestag approved 65 million euros for the reconstruction of the synagogue. The same amount shall be provided from the Hamburg budget.

Read more on History of the Jews in Hamburg and Wikipedia Hamburg Temple (Smart Traveler App by U.S. Department of State - Weather report by weather.com - Johns Hopkins University & Medicine - Coronavirus Resource Center - Global Passport Power Rank - Democracy Index - GDP according to IMF, UN, and World Bank - Global Competitiveness Report - Corruption Perceptions Index - Press Freedom Index - World Justice Project - Rule of Law Index - UN Human Development Index - Global Peace Index - Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index). Photos by Wikimedia Commons. If you have a suggestion, critique, review or comment to this blog entry, we are looking forward to receive your e-mail at comment@wingsch.net. Please name the headline of the blog post to which your e-mail refers to in the subject line.






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