During the last decade archaeologists in Cologne have re-excavated the 700-year old synagogue with its adjacent Mikveh. Now a major new museum is in the pipeline
In the Middle Ages Cologne hosted a large Jewish community. Although it was not mentioned in the sources until the turn of the first millennium, the earliest synagogue has been dated to app. 800 AD. Soon after the community quickly grew into an important part of the inhabitants – perhaps amounting to app 3-5 % AD 1000 – 1100. Already in 1096 the first pogrom was carried out and in the 12th and the 13th century anti-Semitism grew. In 1349 this exploded in the infamous night of St. Bartholomew, when a pogrom called “the slaughter of the Jews” took place. Accusing the Jews for having poisoned the wells and causing the plague, an angry mob entered the Jewish Quarter and killed most of the inhabitants. Finally in 1424 the Jews were banned from the city of Cologne “for eternity”. After the destruction of the inner city in WW2”, the remains of the former Jewish quarter near the City Hall were found under the rubble and excavated. Afterwards the site was turned into an underground museum. The space itself was left open as a memorial of the historical presence of Jews in the central city.
For some years now, archaeologists have once more been busy excavating the central space with its synagogue and the adjacent Mikveh (plus other buildings). These excavations have not only uncovered huge parts of the foundations of the old buildings, but also lots of small archaeological finds like medallions, clay marbles, dices made of ivory, discards of animal bones as well as Hebrew and Yiddish inscriptions galore. Significant finds from the cesspit of the Rabbi’s lodging on top of the Synagogue has yielded a unique insight into the life of a Jewish family on the eve of the pogrom in 1349. The finds range from book clasps to the remains of burnt parchment with Hebrew writing, from toys to medicine bottles, from window glazing to metal furniture mountings and from stove tiles to roof covering. These were thrown into the cesspit after the Synagogue had been plundered. Another impressive witness to the vitality of the Jewish Community is the remnants of the Bihmah, probably built around 1280 by French stonemasons recruited from the group of Cathedral workmen. This also, was totally destroyed by the virulent mob in 1349.
For some time now the city of Cologne has discussed what to do with these major finds. One challenge had been the strained economy of the city, another the general animosity of groups of citizens against having a central open square cluttered up. A third challenge has been the fact that the Jewish remnants are not the only one. Archaeological layers have also revealed Roman, Merovingian, Carolingian rubble plus stuff from the later Town Hall. Finally, smaller groups of neo-nazi’s have tried to dip into the fracas.
New Jewish Museum
Recently, however, a decision was . believed many – finally made to build the new museum on top of the excavated ruins. As state of the art, the museum is planned as a major introduction to the life and times of the Jewish community, not only in Cologne, but in the region as such. The plan is to spread it over more than 10.000 M2, with an exhibition space of 7.000 m2. Consultations with the architects are still going on, but an opening has been scheduled to 2016. At the same time, however, the Conservative fraction (CDU) in Köln is busy getting people to sign a petition against the museum. They claim the issue is going to be on agenda for the upcoming local elections in may 2014!
Whatever the results, anyone interested will have to wet their appetite by going on a guided tour of the excavation site (pre-booking is recommended). –
Die ARCHÄOLOGISCHE ZONE / JÜDISCHES MUSEUM, einer der größten Archäologischen Zonen mitten in Köln, stellt sich vor.
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