Historic Berlin synagogue reopens

Posted in Israel / Palestine | 31-Aug-07 | Author: Kate Connolly| Source: Guardian (UK)

An interior view shows the synagogue on Rykestrasse in Berlin's Prenzlauer Berg district.
Germany's largest synagogue, an architectural and historical landmark in the centre of Berlin, will reopen today after extensive restoration work.

The red-brick Rykestrasse synagogue is to be reopened in the presence of former members who were forced to flee Nazi Germany. It was set on fire on Kristallnacht on November 9 1938, when synagogues and Jewish businesses were attacked and destroyed on Nazi orders.

Rykestrasse was saved from the complete devastation which befell many of the city's 170 synagogues because it was in a residential area and the authorities ordered the fire to be put out.

But it has been plundered and has deteriorated over the years because it was in what became the communist east, whose government had little time for religious institutions. During communism it had about 200 worshippers.

Its reopening after painstaking restoration by two architects is being cited as further proof that Jewish life is returning to Berlin after the Holocaust, which decimated its 560,000-strong community.

Much of the 1,074-seater synagogue, including stained-glass windows and pews, have been redesigned, but original features, such as the bright blue dome, have been reworked from photographs.

The architects Ruth Golan and Kay Zareh compared the restoration to "detective work", sometimes involving enlarging photographs 400 times to study original details of the synagogue, which was built in 1904. "We peeled the walls as if they were an onion in order to rediscover the original colours used for the Torah shrine," said Ms Golan.

New members have to pray under round-the-clock police protection because of threats from far-right groups.