Monday, April 10, 2017

Germany: Simple Sign Marks Berlin's First Purpose-Built Synagogue

Berlin, Germany. Informational sign at the site of the Heidereutergasse Synagogue. Photo: Samuel Gruber (2003).
Berlin, Germany. Informational sign at the site of the Heidereutergasse Synagogue. Photo: Samuel Gruber (2003)
Germany: Simple Sign Marks Berlin's First Purpose Built Synagogue
by Samuel D. Gruber

Here is some more on the memorial landscape of Berlin. 

Adjacent to the green space where the Rosenstrasse Monument is dramatically arranged is the plot formerly the site of the first purpose-built synagogue in Berlin. It was known as the Heidereutergasse Synagogue, after the street on which is erected, but after the Neue Synagogue at Oranienburger Strasse was inaugurated in 1866, it was referred as the Alte Synagoge (Old Synagogue). The synagogue was the only one in which religious services were permitted after the outbreak of war in 1939 and services were held there until 1943. The synagogue was bombed in later air raids but survived in poor condition. The ruins were torn down under Communism in the 1960s. 

Today, there is an informational sign at the site. This is very different from the commemorative monument erected at the location of the Muncher Strasse Synagogue in the 1960s. In the commemorative cityscape of Berlin the former synagogue is very much an afterthought to the Rosenstrasse monument. In a way, this is unfortunate, since the monument commemorates the resistance to the detainment of Jewish men in a former Jewish building that existed here because of the synagogue. 

The original Heidereutergasse Synagogue, built in 1712-14 was substantially altered in the 19th century. The original form is best known from a series of 18th-century illustrations by A. M. Werner and F. A. Calau. The building was in the tradition of the hall type synagogue erected as a single large rectangular vaulted sanctuary. This type was common from at least the Middle Ages, and German versions can be seen in the woodcuts published by the Jewish apostate Johannes Pfefferkorn. In the 17th century, however, adjustments were made to provide more and better space for women often in a gallery above the entrance vestibule as was the case  at the Izaak Synagogue in Krakow Poland) and in Lancut (Poland), and elsewhere. In the 18th-century in Berlin and in some other German towns the form was fulfilled in some splendid spacious and well-lit interiors.

Possibly already in the 18th century, and certainly in the 19th century, the synagogue was too small Berlin's rapidly growing Jewish population.The growth of Reform Judaism and the building the first Reform Temple in 1846, and then the monumental New Synagogue in 1859-66, eased pressure and, after failure to build a new synagogue in the 1840s, forced the old synagogue to modernize its facility in two extensive mid-19th century remodelings in 1853 and again in 1881. By the end of the 19th century the early form would have been unrecognizable. 

Heidereutergasse hardly exists today, it is just a little blind alley next to some modern office buildings that leads to a small paved area with an historical sign located in a position which would have been in front of the old building. In 2000, some fragments of the structure were identified in situ but underground. There has been no talk of excavating or rebuilding the synagogue as has been the case in L'viv, Ukraine; Vilnius, Lithuania; and elsewhere. 

Berlin, Germany.  Heidereutergasse Synagogue as seen in an etching by F. A. Calau of ca. 1795.
Berlin, Germany.  Heidereutergasse Synagogue interior as seen in an engraving by A. M. Werner of ca. 1720. of ca. 1795.
The building, which owes much to contemporary German Protestant church design, is described in detail in English by Carol Herselle Krinsky in Synagogues of Europe (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1985), pp. 261-263:
The synagogue in Berlin was built about forty years after the definitive settlement of Jews in the city (1671). Michael Kemmeter of Regensburg, a Christian architect, built it on a center-city site not far from the church of St. Mary, on land which had been owned by the bishops of Havelberg. The synagogue occupied part of a large courtyard hidden from the street by the house of a government official. The synagogue was a substantial one, apparently about 10 m. high, made of masonry covered with stucco, and crowned by a peaked roof with dormers. Five tall, round-headed windows filled the eastern wall, and six more lighted the north and south walls. A rusticated main portal and a door to the right of it led to the main floor where the mens' area was located, while women entered by a modest door in the west bay of the north side and climbed interior stairs up to the gallery.
The main room was oblong and tall, although the engraver of a view of the interior exaggerated its height and proportion. About half of each wall seems to have been given over to the long windows. The ceiling’s coved panels rose to a slightly depressed elongated octagonal panel which emphasized the center of the room, where the large bimah was placed. Each of the pews along the central axis could seat only about three or four men because the squarish bimah took up so much room. The bimah lacked a canopy but had seats attached to its western side, a feature familiar from the bimahs at Prague-Altneuschul, Metz (pre-1845), and Volpa. The ark was tall and lavishly carved with two tiers of columns and undulating cornices; dense foliage projecting at each side ...
In 1853 the congregation engaged the Protestant architect, Eduard Knoblauch, to remodel the building. A decade later Knoblauch designed the Neue Synagogue at Oranienburgerstrasse synagogue and the Jewish hospital. At the Heidereutergasse building "he added anterooms, galleries, and pews, and changed the decorative style to an eclectic classical-Romanesque mixture which was in fashion around 1855." [Krinsky, p. 263].
Berlin, Germany. Site plan on informational sign at the site of the Heidereutergasse Synagogue. The red dot shows the location of the sign and viewing area. 
Berlin, Germany. Aerial view of rosenstrasse and Heidereutergasse area. Green area in central is the memorial space. The former synagogue site was to the left. Heidereutergasse is a small alley at the "top" pf the green space. Photo: Google Earth.

Berlin, Germany. Informational sign at the site of the Heidereutergasse Synagogue. Photo: Samuel Gruber (2003)
Berlin, Germany. Interior of the Heidereutergasse Synagogue in 1930, shown on informational sign.
Berlin, Germany. Heidereutergasse Synagogue in 1946. Photo from informational sign.
See also: 

Rebiger, Bill. “Synagoge Heidereutergasse.” Das jüdische Berlin. Kulur, Religion und Alltag gestern und heute. Berlin: Jaron Verlag, 2000. 76-77