Posts Tagged ‘Cologne’


Jews lived in Cologne as long as Christians

June 15, 2008


Reuters reports about a new museum that shows that the Jews of Cologne, Germany have been around the block for quite a while. The picture above shows a writing by Emperor Constantine from 321, in which he appointed the Jews of Cologne to the city council.

A new Cologne museum will show how Jewish life in the city goes back more than 1,700 years and, civic leaders hope, help revive it decades after the Holocaust. An archaeological site from Roman times will be at the heart of the museum which the organizers also want to illustrate modern Jewish life and customs. 

The strongly Catholic city, best known for its Gothic cathedral, claims to have the oldest Jewish community north of the Alps, dating back to at least 321, during Emperor Constantine’s reign. “This project is extremely important to show that Jews have been in Germany for as long as Christians — people in this country should be made more aware of that,” Wilfried Rogasch, head of the project, told Reuters.

Late on Friday, a jury chose German architects Wandel Hoefer Lorch + Hirsch to design the museum due to open in 2010 or soon thereafter. It is being financed partly by a private foundation and partly by the city. 

The same architects designed an award-winning synagogue in Dresden which opened in 2001 and a Jewish center in Munich. 

“The concept is for an integrated project which will bind together the archaeological remains and the museum which will bring us to the modern day,” Rogasch said. 

The remains include a synagogue and a “mikve,” or Jewish ritual bath house, and the museum will be suspended over the site, said Rogasch. 

Cologne’s 5,000-strong Jewish community backs the initiative but says it wants the museum to have relevance to their lives by including a meeting area or a place of worship. [See Cologne’s main synagogue on the photo to the left.] 

“We welcome the project and want people to learn about history but we also want something today’s Jewish community can actively engage in,” Abraham Lehrer, a board member of Cologne’s Community of Synagogues, told Reuters. 

Germany’s Jewish community has more than tripled in the last 15 years, mainly due to immigrants from the former Soviet Union who account for most of the country’s 105,000 registered Jews. A similar number of non-practising Jews live in Germany. 

Jewish schools, theaters and shops have sprung up but Lehrer said the population’s dynamic growth of recent years is slowing. 

With neo-Nazi crime on the rise, police guard synagogues round the clock and the community is haunted by the memory of the Holocaust in which Nazis killed about 6 million Jews. 

Only 12,000 Jews were left in Germany after World War II from some 600,000 before. 

Medieval Cologne’s strategic location on the river Rhine at the crossing of trade routes brought it prosperity. Its Jewish community thrived until pogroms and explusions in the 14th and 15th centuries. 

Although not on the scale of Berlin’s Jewish museum which opened to great fanfare in 2001, locals say the historical connection will give Cologne’s museum special appeal. 

“It is a unique opportunity we have because of the history and I think the project will become a landmark in Germany and even Europe,” Mayor Fritz Schramma told Reuters. 


More on Germans and Israel

May 9, 2008

image courtesy of DPA

Jews and non-Jews celebrated Israel’s sixtieth birthday all over Germany, as seen in the photo above from Stuttgart’s Schlossplatz. Yet, the occasion naturally called not only for celebrations, but for political commentary as well. German papers were full of historical reviews and analysis. Die Welt, a conservative paper published by the traditionally pro-Israel Axel Springer Verlag, wrote that most Germans were not too interested in Israel’s creation 60 years ago. Apparently, only German politicians really cared.

For them it was an epic event, and soon after the foundation of the Federal Republic of Germany on May 23, 1949, there was contact between leading figures in both countries, at first mainly in the area of science. However, the Israeli prime minister David Ben-Gurion, as well as the German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, wanted more.

But in the Holy Land a majority of people then were not in favor of direct talks with, let alone financial support from, the ‘country of the perpetrators.’ However, in a memorable debate, Ben-Gurion convinced the majority of parliamentarians that it was time to have some sort of relations with the new, democratic Germany.

In the Luxembourg Agreements signed on Sept. 10, 1952, Germany promised to give Israel 3 billion German marks, on top of compensation payments to individuals. The money was meant to be used to help the integration of former European Jews. The ice was broken, but it still took a long time until the two countries established diplomatic relations.

Today, Germany is Israel’s second-most important ally after the US. Luckily, the main reason for that is not the ever-present history of the two countries, but the common belief in the fundamental values of our existence.

Read more about the German press on Israel here.

German-Jewish journalist Henryk Broder wrote several pieces on the occasion of Israel’s Independence Day. I found only one translated into English: “The Poisoned Congratulations of German Know-It-Alls.” Last but not least, let it be known that the Jewish elementary school in Cologne posted three videos of its Israel Independence Day celebration on YouTube. Part 1 and part 2 are noisy and hardly bearable 10-minute pieces showing an introductory presentation by the teachers followed by the kids singing Israeli songs and waving flags. Part 3 is a mute slide show featuring nice photos of the presentation and the subsequent party in the school’s backyard. Enjoy!


The incredible rise and fall of a German rabbi

March 23, 2008

Netanel Teitelbaum served eight years as the rabbi of Cologne’s Jewish community before he stepped down last week among mysterious circumstances.

Teitelbaum, of Haifa, Israel, was almost like a superstar among Germany’s rabbis. His resume included historic visits by the pope (read Teitelbaum’s speech here), both Israeli chief rabbis and many other dignitaries from all areas of society. He was one of the higher-ups in the ORD, the German equivalent of the Orthodox Union, and even had plans to build a bigger mikveh for Cologne.

Then, all of a sudden, a few days before Purim, rumors started spreading among Cologne’s Jews that Rabbi Teitelbaum would leave the community. Some were skeptic: how can somebody leave such a dream job behind? (Rabbis make a lot of money in Germany. While there are no official numbers, it is estimated that the monthly salary is about €10,000, which is more than $15,000).

Within days, the rumors were substantiated and community officials confirmed that Rabbi Teitelbaum would leave the community for good to return to Israel.

One of reasons for this completely surprising development had to do with the rabbi’s health, the officials declared, without further explaining. Secondly, they said, the rabbi’s oldest daughter had reached high school age and therefore needs to return to Israel immediately for the lack of Jewish schools in Cologne. Of course hardly anybody believed the official version – why would a rabbi with such a stellar career throw everything away? Neither the quoted “health reasons” nor his daughter’s education seem to be plausible explanations for a successful and popular rabbi to abandon his community in the middle of the school year and days before Purim and weeks before Passover. (While usually the rabbi’s job, Megillat Esther was this year read by somebody who came especially for this task from Frankfurt.)

There are, of course, countless rumors about the real reasons for Rabbi Teitelbaum’s mysterious harum-scarum departure, ranging from the naive to the slanderous. Ashkenews will not propagate any rumors, but we are indeed wondering what really happened. One thing is certain: this past week saw the abrupt end of a promising career and proves once again that German Jewry’s often quoted renaissance needs to be regarded with a healthy dose of skepticism.


Carnival: Tasteless in Munich, more fun in Cologne

January 31, 2008

Cologne / Köln:A German rapper being ousted from a TV reality show for lifting his arm for the Hitler salute, carnival celebrations in Munich on the same day Auschwitz was liberated: there was no lack of news this week. We won’t go into detail here, the issues were widely covered in Israeli and Jewish media. Do see this Jewlicious article about the whole carnival in Germany issue, as it provides a little bit more insight.

By the way: Tomorrow is Weiberfastnacht, the official start of the carnival, or Karneval, season in Köln/Cologne. Or Fastelovend, as real Kölsche Jung would call it. Need a place to celebrate? Loreley, a Köln-themed restaurant and biergarten has Karneval parties all weekend. Kölle Alaaf!