Where Reform Judaism took shape in 1817, remnants of the wall are crumbling today: Hamburg’s Liberal Jews* are campaigning to save the Poolstrabe Temple.
Listed and decaying: Remains of Hamburg’s liberal temple Photo: dpa
Why is there a brick on every chair? These pieces of brick are just lying around, says Galina Jarkova, looking at the backyard in Poolstrabe, Hamburg-Neustadt: What is crumbling away out there are the remains of a Jewish temple; the second one that Hamburg’s Reform Jewry operated here from 1844. The building survived the pogrom night in November 1938 – also because the location in the backyard would have endangered the houses next door (with their "Aryan" inhabitants) from the point of view of the arsonists.
In 1944, a bomb hit the building, and all that remained of the neo-Gothic structure was the entrance portal and the eastern end: the crumbling apse. The courtyard, which used to be the interior of the temple, has long been used by a car repair shop. Nevertheless, since 2003 the building has been listed as a historical monument – without any visible consequences.
Jarkova, the chairwoman of today’s Liberal Jewish Community, which has existed since 2004, invited visitors to the entrance area of the temple, which is still accessible. Together with the historians Miriam Rurup and Wolfgang Kopitzsch and the artist Michael Batz, she wants to attract attention – and support: the ruin is in danger. Not only has "not enough been done for years to protect this valuable site," says Jarkova, but there are also plans to build a handful of condominiums in this central location.
Meanwhile, Pool Street is also on a list of particularly endangered properties compiled by the London-based Foundation for Jewish Heritage. And just recently, on 22. November, the city has sent a "safeguarding order" to the owners, according to the monument association: This would oblige them not to simply continue to expose the ruin to wind and weather – a moderately sharp sword, however, as has been shown, for example, in the case of the Schiller Opera House in the St. Pauli district.
"We welcome the growing interest in Jewish life in Hamburg," says Jarkova. That sounds like what one has heard so often in recent weeks: since October in the Burgerschaft, the Green Party parliamentary group leader Anjes Tjarks has wanted a positive, a visible sign of precisely this lively Judaism. Just as a synagogue on Joseph-Carlebach-Platz, which used to be called Bornplatz, in the Grindelviertel, right next to the university campus, could be.
The city has commissioned a feasibility study, the money for which was raised in mid-November by Hamburg’s two members of parliament, Rudiger Kruse (CDU) and Johannes Kahrs (SPD), and optimistic observers expect the results within a year. But not all Hamburg Jews are sitting at the table – the Liberal Community, for example, is missing. But the community also wants a place for itself and its own activities, but also for encounters. What they are not asking for is to restore the temple, just like that.
Miriam Rurup, director of the Institute of the History of German Jews and herself raised "in a typical post-war German unified community," advocated in the Bornplatz discussion that the feasibility study should be broader in scope: Poolstrasse, she said, is "a reminder in stone of a diverse, pluralistic Judaism as it was in the 19th century. It was here in Hamburg that it came into being in the nineteenth century," says Rurup.
Full house: Opening in 1844 Photo: Heinrich Jessen/Wikimedia Commons
For now, light artist Michael Batz wants to illuminate the ruins on Advent 1 from 4 p.m. and at least remind us for a few hours what it once looked like, the old temple.