The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

The First Counter-Monument Dedicated to a Synagogue: Margrit Kahl’s Mosaic in Hamburg

Last year, debate has been swirling in Hamburg over the rebuilding of the Bornplatz Synagogue. The arguments pro and con have been presented in various newspapers and TV interviews in Germany, as well as in the pages of the Haaretz newspaper in Israel. While in Germany the opinions deal mostly with the kind of building (a replica of the old synagogue or a modern construction), in Israel the issue is whether or not Israelis should have a say in an ostensibly local German debate.

My concern is a work of art, "Synagogue Monument", a memorial created by the local artist Margrit Kahl (1942-2009). Kahl retraced the synagogue`s putline with cobblestones, in the original scale, as well as its complex domed ceiling and vaulted spaces. At present, there is an inclination to integrate the mosaic into the new synagogue.

My paper will argue against this current tendency and explain why the decisive features of this work of art would thereby be destroyed. Moreover, I will argue that although the city of Hamburg is trying to act progressively and in support of the Jewish community, and to show its rejection of antisemitism, this progressive act would come at the expanse of the significant place of Hamburg in post-war German memorial culture.