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Designing the passageway at the location of the former Central Synagogue

Public space
District: Local district:
Size of area:
Project management:

Ms. Petra Kanamüller
fone: +49 (0)69 212 35856

Project description

In the run-up to the “Redesign of north Fahrgasse as well as the plazas and the ‘An der Staufenmauer’ street”, the plan is to realize some partial measures at short notice. They include the temporary design of the “An der Staufenmauer” plaza in the north of the area.

It will receive a makeover in the summer of 2024 and have greenery planted so as to offer visitors and passers-by a shady, greened space where they can rest for a moment and relax.

For visitors, an information stele will outline the historical importance of the Staufenmauer wall. It will also draw attention to the history of the adjacent, formerly largest of the Jewish ghettos in what was then the Judengasse and later Börnestrasse.

The street “An der Staufenmauer” that has survived truthfully follows the line of the northern section of what was once Börnestrasse. After Napoleonic troops conquered Frankfurt and the ghetto was opened, spacious Classicistic buildings were erected here.

In 1860, with the grand Central Synagogue new build, during the 19th century once again a pivotal location for Jewish life in Frankfurt arose. The Jewish population played an increasing role in the intellectual/cultural and economic life of Frankfurt civil society.

The fragments of buildings in the southern section of the Judengasse in the neighboring Museum Judengasse are supplemented by the narrative design elements the City of Frankfurt Planning Dept. wishes to locate on the site of the Central Synagogue, which was torn down in 1939. Today’s pedestrian passageway at the southern end of “An der Staufenmauer” street leading onto Kurt Schumacher Strasse will highlight exactly at this site the history of the Jewish community’s glorious Central Synagogue so sadly lost for posterity in 1939.

In the near future, there will be a mural illustrating the Judengasse in an 1861 map of the city. It will effectively establish a visual link to Museum Judengasse and its exhibits. Together with the vaulted cellar rediscovered here and the new “Goldener Apfel” cultural venue, all of these measures comprise additional important “stepping stones in memory” of the epoch defined by the Judengasse in Frankfurt/Main.

More information

The first synagogues in the Jewish ghetto

Map by Matthäus Merian 1628 © Historisches Museum Frankfurt

A first synagogue was built in the middle of the Judengasse in 1461 when Frankfurt’s Jewish inhabitants were moved from the Old Town to the ghetto on Wollgraben.

“It was built by Mater Heinrich; the walls under the ground were 4 foot thick, those above the ground 3 foot thick; the building had 3 entrances and 18 windows; it consisted of a school for men and one for women. It was, as Merian’s plan shows, made of simple masonry modest in scope. Next to this “old” synagogue a “new” one was built by the Jews in 1608; both were severely damaged when the rabble stormed them on August 22, 1614, and they were both destroyed in the Jewish Fire of 1711. In the “Old School”, the seats tended to be privately owned by community members, while the seats in the “New School” were the property of the community and were rented out. Moreover, the community also had two other, smaller synagogues, one next to the dance hall, and one outside the Gasse on the Jewish cemetery grounds.”

Third Synagogue 1711

Steel engraving by Wilhelm Lang after an illustration by Jakob Fürchtegott Dielmann © Die Baudenkmäler in Frankfurt am Main; Carl Wolff und Rudolf Jung, Band 1 Kirchenbauten 1896

On January 14, 1711, the synagogue was also completely destroyed along with large parts of the Jewish quarter. The Community’s first concern was to rebuild their place of worship. On February 18, the Council granted it permission to re-establish its synagogue on the old site, on the original foundations and also in the same size, because the law so ordained. On March 11, the foundation stone was laid and on March 23 construction work commenced, which was conducted by master mason Daniel Kayser at the Community’s cost.

Illuminated interior of the synagogue 1711 - 1854 © Architectura Virtualis, Darmstadt

For the new build, all the stones from the old building and even some of the debris was used, so that later on many occasions repairs were required because of the poor construction materials used; those remains of the old synagogue that could not be used were buried in the Jewish cemetery. Toward the end of September 1711 work had progressed such that if necessary religious services could be held in the new build, and it was possible to consecrate it.”

(ex: Die Baudenkmäler in Frankfurt am Main; Carl Wolff and Rudolf Jung, vol. 1, Kirchenbauten, 1896)

Ground plan of the third Synagogue 1711-1854   © Historisches Museum Frankfurt am Main

"A – the vaulted Old School
N – Gallery of the so-called high school
M – Almemar (rectangular place for readings from the Torah) and in the east with the Holy Shrine
C – Smaller Synagogue on the South side along with the New School
D – Annex consisting of a ground floor and first floor for Community administration purposes
B – Women’s section – three-story building linked to the Old School through windows
E – Vestibule, for men
J to K – Entrance for women to the second-floor women’s section; the path led from here across the courtyard to the women’s baths
H – Protection canopy for wedding ceremonies outdoors"

 "In December 1712, the Jews were still complaining that their school was still not complete, ostensibly because of a lack of tradesmen.

(ex: Die Baudenkmäler in Frankfurt am Main; Carl Wolff and Rudolf Jung, vol. 1, Kirchenbauten, 1896)

Fire and resolution to build a new Central Synagogue

View of the south section of the Judengasse with the old synagogue prior to its demolition in 1855 1855  © Institut für Stadtgeschichte

As to the fate of the synagogue in other respects, it bears mentioning that its attic was set on fire and destroyed during the artillery bombardment of the city on July 14, 1796.”

(ex: Die Baudenkmäler in Frankfurt am Main; Carl Wolff and Rudolf Jung, vol. 1, Kirchenbauten, 1896)

Unlike the north section of the Judengasse, which was completely destroyed by the fire set by Napoleonic troops in 1796, the roof of the synagogue was swiftly rebuilt. However, the interior space was soon not large enough for the growing Jewish community, and donations were therefore raised to pay to build a new, larger synagogue.

View of the south section of the Judengasse as well as of the new Central Synagogue 1865  © Institut für Stadtgeschichte

“In 1844, negotiations for the construction of a new synagogue started; this was resolved in 1852 after generous donations by members of the Israelite community meant the required funds had been raised. The Old Synagogue was demolished in 1854 and on June 28, 1855, the foundation stone laid for the new place of worship, built by Johann Georg Kayser.”

(ex: Die Baudenkmäler in Frankfurt am Main; Carl Wolff and Rudolf Jung, vol. 1, Kirchenbauten, 1896)

Construction and consecration of the Central Synagogue 1860

Layout of the ''Central Synagogue'' in 'Frankfurt/Main consecrated in 1860 and destroyed between 1938–39 © Baudenkmäler in der Stadt Frankfurt

The prestigious Central Synagogue made of red Main sandstone accorded with the historicizing spirit of its day. With a main façade no less than 26.50 meters wide on Börnestrasse, it boasted two four-story avant-corps. These framed the façade that lay between them with its ascendant stepped gables and a high, four-part window. Polygonal projections served to delimit the corner towers on all four sides and crowned these with small onion domes almost in a Russian style.
The design of the outside of the building featured various styles. Moorish, Russian, Persian, and Indian stylistic elements combined with Gothic forms.

The square volume of the building was accessed on the inside via a longer lobby and the main hall therefore had the shape of an extended rectangle. To the east, stood a bipartite apse with the Holy Shrine for the Torah and the Bimah, the raised platform for the readings. The northeast at the rear of the building which ran along Allerheiligenstrasse housed the rabbis’ rooms, the synagogue for everyday purposes during the week, and the archive.

The Central Synagogue was designed by Frankfurt architect Johann Georg Kayser (1817–1875). He had studied under Friedrich Maximilian Hessemer and Friedrich Ziebland, and since 1844 had also taught architecture at the Gewerbe- und Sonntagsschule (Commercial and Sunday College).

View of the ''Central Synagogue'' in 'Frankfurt/Main consecrated in 1860 and destroyed between 1938–1939 © Institut für Stadtgeschichte

“The consecration of the New Synagogue for the local Jewish Reform Community, which took place in due ceremonial form yesterday afternoon from 5-9, was attended on behalf of the Christians in the city by the two mayors and the entire City Senate; they were joined by the members of the Permanent College of Citizens and the Bureau of the Legislative Assembly as well as clerics of all confessions. We also noted the presence of several worthy members of the diplomatic corps and consuls among the guests that the Community had specially invited to attend the ceremony.”

(from an article in Allgemeine Zeitung des Judentums, May 1, 1860)

Clearing the space round the Central Synagogue in 1885

Central Synagogue on Börnestrasse © Reproduction of a photochrome dating from 1885

In the mid-1880s, large parts of te south section of the Judengasse were torn down. “The newly built section of the Judengasse” as of 1809 was renamed “Börnestrasse” after the “Juda Löw Baruch” who was born in 1786 in the so-called Rost House and later became famous as a writer under the name of Ludwig Börne.

“In recent weeks, on the north side of the Gasse the old Israelite coffeehouse next to the Central Synagogue (once Café Sichel, of late Café Stark) was completely demolished. With its removal, the entire frontage of the synagogue is now visible. The houses to the right and left of the main Rothschild domicile that served to support the latter are only now being torn down. The two sides of the house will in future be bracketed by special fire protection walls and this building work has progressed sufficiently that it has been possible to start the demolition of the houses to both sides. The main Rothschild domicile will in future be the only edifice to represent the type of house that used to form the Judengasse. The name of the latter will also disappear, as it will in future, along with Bornheimer Gasse, into which it leads, bear the name “Börnestrasse”. The street-name signs on Bornheimer Gasse have already been changed accordingly. Part of this process of tearing down the old Judengasse means that the synagogue now stands on its own and is highly visible, as something exemplary.”

(from an article in Allgemeine Zeitung des Judentums, June 30, 1885 entitled “Die Judenstadt fällt – die Synagoge besteht” – the Jewish city falls, the synagogue endures)

The interior in 1860, visualization  © Architectura virtualis, Darmstadt

The interior architecture of the main nave was modeled after Moorish antecedents with horseshoe arches with the intention of creating an Oriental style within.

The horseshoe shape is also to be seen in all the arches such as those in the ground-floor arcade and the galleries on the first and second floors. In the east over the Torah shrine the vaulted arches narrow around the two-part blind window with its horseshoe arch and the large rosette above it.

The Central Synagogue’s interior at the time reflected the liturgical specifics of the Israelite Reform movement. The shrine for the Torah and the bimah (lectern) in the east apse are supplemented on the right by a chancellery. The organ which we know only from documents was most probably located on the gallery on the west side opposite.

Interior of the Central Synagogue in 1860   © Historisches Museum Frankfurt/Main

Rabbi Leopold Stein gave the festive speech at the inauguration on March 23, 1860, in the presence of Mayors Samuel Gottlieb Müller and Eduard Ludwig von Harnier as well as the Senate of the Free City of Frankfurt. Stein emphasized that the new synagogue was a symbol of the bond between the Israelite community with the old religion and its membership of the German nation.

What was meant here was that the Moorish styles represented remembrance of and a connection to the old religion, while the Gothicizing elements stood for affiliation to the German nation.

“If you hear the sounds of our beloved German language, may it bring joy to your hearts, showing that a better time has come and Mother Germany has also become your mother; when you hear the sounds of our old, revered Hebrew language, so think of Father Israel.”

(ex: Synagogen in Deutschland, Harold Hammer Schenk; 1981)

The speech was regarded as scandalous by the Community Board which led two years later to Stein resigning from his rabbinical office.

In 1864, the Frankfurt Jewry received full civic rights.

Modernization of the Main Synagogue in 1912

View of the renovated interior after 1912  © Wikipedia

Architect Fritz Epstein (Frankfurt/Main) conducted a comprehensive makeover of the synagogue in 1912. Several finds discovered in the rubble in the cellar rooms of the previous synagogue, such as the capstones of the synagogue that burned down in 1711, the lintel of the synagogue built in 1712 and a “huppah stone” (marriage stone) were inserted into the masonry of the wall in the entrance to the synagogue.

“The Central Synagogue on Börne- and Allerheiligenstrasse, which was built 50 years ago, has been converted and completed modernized. The once somewhat somber building now has a friendly demeanor, and now effectively displays its exquisitely well-crafted Moorish shapes. The interior has undergone an astonishing change. The new paintwork has created an atmospheric space and the impressive proportions have been underscored by the vibrant coloring. The constant changes in the paintings are, even if they take Moorish architectural forms as their starting point, decidedly freer and more colorful in design.

View of Börnestrasse 1885  © Institut für Stadtgeschichte

A particular highlight is the section around the sanctum, a composition in yellow, red, and blue, while the visual impact of the vaults and wall surface in the center and in the side aisles intensifies from the top down, painted in greys and blues, with all sections illuminated in discreetly applied real goldleaf. The entrances with the newly created ancillary rooms have been painted in elegant tones. Interestingly, here ancient stones with Hebrew inscriptions and sculptures have been set into the walls; they were found in the rubble in the cellars and originate in the synagogues that once stood at this very place. The synagogue will go back into operation on Rosh Hashanah.

(excerpts from an article in Allgemeine Zeitung des Judentums, September 11, 1912)


The Main Synagogue during the Third Reich

View of Börnestrasse in 1938 © Institut für Stadtgeschichte

78 years later during the pogroms of November 1938, marauding troops belonging to the Nazi regime set the Central Synagogue on fire along with the Börneplatz Synagogue and the Synagogue on Friedberger Landstrasse.

The last Chief Cantor and Rabbinate Administrator, Nathan Saretzki, managed to enter the burning synagogue and saved historical valuable, liturgical compositions which he subsequently placed in the Philanthropin for safekeeping.

Although when the alarm sounded the Fire Dept. arrived swiftly at the scene no attempt was made to extinguish the fire. The building burned down to the ground, leaving only the outer walls.

On April 1, 1939, Nazi Lord Mayor Friedrich Krebs forced the Israelite Community to sign the so-called Jewish Agreement. In it, the Community assigned all its properties, including the land on which the destroyed Central Synagogue had stood, to the City of Frankfurt in return for only nominal compensation.

Remaining walls of the Central Synagogue, after 1944 © ISG s7ko_nr_1313

One outer wall to the rear of the building where the Central Synagogue Archive had been survived the demolition work of 1939, as it had to remain in place as a fire wall protecting the adjacent housing on Allerheiligenstrasse.

The massive fire wall even survived the destruction of Frankfurt’s Old Town by a bombing raid on March 22, 1944.

As part of a memorial ceremony in 1946 on Börneplatz, the American Military Administration erected memorial plaques at the places of the three destroyed synagogues. The ceremony was attended by the head of the US Military Administration for Greater Hessen, Colonel James R. Newman, City Commander Colonel Robert K. Phelbs, and on behalf of the City of Frankfurt Lord Mayor Dr. Kurt Blaum, while the Jewish Community was represented by Rabbi Dr. Leopold Neuhaus.

Memorializing the Main Synagogue after 1945

Memorializing the Main Synagogue after 1945 Remains of a wall of the Central Synagogue after 1944 © ISG s7c_nr_1998-11170)

The large Central Synagogue’s fire wall stood in place for another 15 years as a ruin and was first torn down when the new Kurt Schumacher Strasse was built in 1960.

We can assume that underneath today’s Kurt Schumacher Strasse there are still remains of the foundations and fragments of the Central Synagogue itself along with the mikveh, the purification bath.

Memorial stone attached to the office building 2023 © City of Frankfurt Planning Dept.

After the wall was torn down in the 1960s to make way for the new Kurt Schumacher Strasse to be built, the memorial plaque was moved to the office building that now stands at Kurt Schumacher Strasse 41.

The private office building at Kurt Schumacher Strasse 41 and 43 was built in 1962–3 on the site of the former Central Synagogue in keeping with the requirements of the then Zoning Plan NO 1c N1 – Konstablerwache.

Former location of the Central Synagogue © City of Frankfurt Planning Dept.

Ever since 1962 the office building at Kurt Schumacher Strasse 41 has housed municipal, administrative and welfare offices and institutions.