Cologne, one of Germany’s largest cities that was home to one of the oldest Jewish communities in Europe, plans to excavate and rebuild the old Jewish Quarter. The project was begun in 2007 and is expected to be completed in 2015.
The decision to rebuild the old Jewish community comes after decades of fights with opponents who claimed another museum to Jewish history was unnecessary in a country who has owned up to its past and has multiple Holocaust museums. However, the decision was to rebuild the quarter because the area dates back to the 1400s and possibly even earlier. There were other considerations that affected the decision, particularly those related to tourism.
In 2007, when excavations began, archaeologists found the remains of a synagogue from the year 780. Since then, they have found the home of a goldsmith, a mikvah and numerous other items and buildings. Archaeologists have also found some items from recent history, such prayer books and Seder plates from the 1920s. A colloquium was held recently regarding the project and the excavations shown were described as being “monumental”.
Cologne was home to a massive Jewish community that was as many as 20,000 before the Holocaust, but as also a very large 1,000 member strong community during the Medieval Era. During the crusades, city officials often hid Jews to protect them from marauding soldiers. The community was the oldest north of the Alps.
According to Sven Schutte, the head of excavation, the location is important because in Germany, most of the Jewish museums portray “a separate history and you can think that the Jews come from the moon, that they were not an integral part. This is a site where you can learn how to live together with other people. To show all this rich history is something which should be done.”
Currently, tourists can view the excavations on Fridays or simply by watching through the fences around the dig area. The plan upon completion of the dig is to be a museum that shows different facets of Cologne’s history and the interaction of different groups.