The New Synagogue of Berlin

1st January 1970
Synagogue
SITE OVERVIEW

The New Synagogue on Oranienburger Straße in Berlin is a mid-19th century synagogue built as the main place of worship for Berlin’s Jewish community, succeeding the Old Synagogue which the community outgrew. Because of its eastern Moorish style and resemblance to the Alhambra, the New Synagogue is an important architectural monument in Germany.

The building was designed by Eduard Knoblauch. Following Knoblauch’s death in 1865, 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. One of the few synagogues to survive Kristallnacht, 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 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”, a Nazi mob broke into the Neue Synagoge, desecrated the Torah scrolls, smashed the furniture, piled up such contents as would burn in the synagogue interior, and set fire to them. 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 arsonists 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 to enter and extinguish the fire before it could spread to the fabric of the building, and the synagogue was saved from destruction.

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