New Synagogue in Berlin
The Neue Synagoge ("New Synagogue") was built 1859–1866 as the main synagogue of the Berlin Jewish community, on Oranienburger Straße. Because of its splendid eastern Moorish style and resemblance to the Alhambra, it is an important architectural monument of the second half of the 19th century in Berlin.
The building was designed by Eduard Knoblauch. Following Knoblauch's succumbing to illness, Friedrich August Stüler took responsibility for the majority of its construction as well as for its interior arrangement and design. It was inaugurated in the presence of Count Otto von Bismarck, then Minister President of Prussia, in 1866. It was badly damaged prior to and during World War II and subsequently much was demolished; the present building on the site is a reconstruction of the ruined street frontage with its entrance, dome and towers, and only a few rooms behind. It is truncated before the point where the main hall of the synagogue began.
The front of the building, facing Oranienburger Straße, is richly ornamented with shaped bricks and terracotta, accented by coloured glazed bricks. Beyond the entrance, the building's alignment changes to mesh with pre-existing structures. The synagogue's main dome with its gilded ribs is an eye-catching sight. The central dome is flanked by two smaller pavilion-like domes on the two side-wings. Beyond the façade was the front hall and the main hall with 3,000 seats. Due to the unfavourable alignment of the property, the building's design required adjustment along a slightly turned axis.
The Neue Synagoge is also a monument of early iron construction. The new building material (iron was previously not used in building construction) was visible in its use for the outside columns, as well as in the dome's construction. (Iron was also a core component for the now-lost floor structure of the main hall.)
The New Synagogue was built to serve the growing Jewish population in Berlin, in particular, immigrants from the East. It was the largest synagogue in Germany at the time, seating 3,000 people. The building housed public concerts, including a violin concert with Albert Einstein in 1930. With an organ and a choir, the religious services reflected the liberal developments in the Jewish community of the time.
During the November Pogrom (9 November 1938), colloquially euphemised as "Kristallnacht", the Neue Synagoge was set ablaze, Torah scrolls desecrated, furniture smashed and other combustible furnishings piled up and set on fire. Lieutenant Otto Bellgardt, the police officer of the local police precinct on duty that night, arrived on the scene in the early morning of 10 November and ordered the Nazi mob to disperse. He said the building was a protected historical landmark and drew his pistol, declaring that he would uphold the law requiring its protection. This allowed the fire brigade access to extinguish the fire before it could spread to the actual building, and the synagogue was saved from destruction. Senior Lieutenant Wilhelm Krützfeld, head of the local police precinct, Bellgardt's superior, later covered up for him. Berlin's police commissioner Graf Helldorf only verbally reprimanded Krützfeld for doing so and, partly in consequence, Krützfeld has often mistakenly been identified as the rescuer of the New Synagogue.
The New Synagogue, like the synagogue in Rykestr., remained intact and was subsequently repaired by the congregation who continued to use it as synagogue until 1940. Besides being used for prayers the main hall was also used for concerts and lectures since other venues were blocked for Jews. On Sunday, March 31, 1940 the main prayer hall was last used by the congregation, this time for the last concert of a series of benefit concerts in favour of the Jüdisches Winterhilfswerk (Jewish winter aid endowment) in favour of poor Jews, who had been excluded from government benefits. On 5 April 1940 the Jüdisches Nachrichtenblatt had to announce that services in the New Synagogue were not to be held any more until further notice. During World War II the New Synagogue was heavily damaged; it was completely burned after Allied bombing during the Battle of Berlin, a series of British air raids lasting from November 18, 1943 until March 25, 1944. The strike on the New Synagogue was recorded in the Berlin police commissioner's bomb damage reports, regularly issued after attacks, for the raid the night of November 22 and 23, 1943.
The left building and the second right building of the New Synagogue, also property of Berlin's Jewish Community, survived the war intact and it was in one of them, in Oranienburger Straße 28, that surviving Jews formally reconstituted Jüdische Gemeinde zu Berlin, Berlin's mainstream Jewish congregation in 1946. Following the anti-Semitic atrocities in Czechoslovakia (Slánský trial, November 1952), arrests and interrogations of Jews in East Berlin and East Germany in January 1953 and the Soviet Doctors' plot (started on 13 January 1953), members of Jüdische Gemeinde in East Berlin formed a new provisional executive board competent only for the eastern sector on 21 January, hoping to spare themselves from further persecution, and thus dividing the Jewish community into an eastern and a western one.
In 1958 the Jewish Community of East Berlin, then proprietor of the site, was prompted to demolish the ruined rear sections of the building, including the soot-blackened ruin of the main prayer hall, leaving only the less destroyed front section. The damaged but mostly preserved central dome on top of the front section was also torn down in the 1950s. East Berlin's Jewish Community, impoverished and small after the Shoah and the flight of many surviving members from Communist anti-Semitism, saw no chance to restore it.<ref name="Matthes 62"/>
It was not until the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 that reconstruction of the front section began. From 1988 to 1993, the structurally intact parts of the building close to the street, including the façade, the dome, and some rooms behind were restored as the "Centrum Judaicum" ("Jewish Center"); the main sanctuary was not restored. In May 1995, a small synagogue congregation was reestablished using the former women's wardrobe room.
Together with the New Synagogue, the whole Spandauer Vorstadt neighbourhood (lit. "suburb towards Spandau", often confused with the Scheunenviertel) experienced a revival, with chic restaurants and boutiques opening up in the area, catering to an increasingly bourgeois clientele.
Jewish services are now held again in the New Synagogue; the congregation is the Berlin community's sole Masorti synagogue. Most of the building, however, houses offices and a museum. The dome may also be visited.
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