The Garden of Remembrance

Strolling through the lower part of Marburg, visitors will suddenly come upon a gap in the otherwise densely built-up area. Only insiders know that this is the place where the Marburg synagogue stood until the night of 9 November 1938.

After its completion in 1897, the synagogue rapidly developed into a centre of religious and cultural life in the university town. This development was abruptly brought to a close with the destruction of the building by the NS regime during the Reichspogromnacht. The ruins, which had been razed to the ground, were covered with soil and refashioned as a green area; since then there has been, in a prominent place, an unmistakable break in the city grid.

After an extensive discussion about the proper use of the site, the city organized, in 2009, an open space planning-cum-arts competition, in which the proposal submitted by the Düsseldorf-based office scape Landschaftsarchitekten in cooperation with the artists Oliver Gather and Christian Ahlborn was awarded the top prize.

The task which had to be tackled by the planners was not restricted to the mere development and realization of a concept for the memorial site; they also had to take into account that the finished site should – according to the express wish of the Jewish community – not only serve as a place of remembrance but also grow into a fully-integrated element of the city’s everyday life and provide an attractive open space inviting people to stop by and spend some time there. The concept interprets the memorial site as a public garden – a “garden of remembrance“. Its aim is to create a place charged with meaning and emotion, a site shedding its former casual countenance and, rather than shunning the public eye, firmly implanting itself in the cityscape, providing a marker which cannot be overlooked in its concrete-faced, speed-charged surroundings.

Any visitor ambling along the Universitätsstrasse will suddenly find the sidewalk widening into an elongated square covered with a dark basalt surface. The glass walls of a neigbouring bus stop sport a photograph of the former synagogue, providing a first clue to the historical significance of this area. The forecourt is bordered by a green area covered with rosebushes – in ancient Jerusalem, the rose was the only flower permitted to be grown within the city walls. The center of the area is marked by a sculptural frame made from white concrete which, gallery-like, encloses a lawn and a tree. Its exterior is formed like a parallelogram; its interior, however, takes the form of a quadrangle demarcating the former assembly hall of the synagogue. Narrow steps lead onto the platform and towards a glass panel embedded in the ground which affords a glimpse of the relics of the former synagogue: directly underneath the glass panel one can discern the well-preserved remains of the recently-excavated mikveh. Beyond this spot one sees a square lawn, slightly recessed from its surroundings, which forms the center of the site; two old lime trees provide spacious cover – a spot which radiates tranquility. In the grass growing at the foot of the trees the memorial stone erected in 1963 is found. Otherwise the site is bare – almost bare, that is, as there are glass cases embedded in the lawn, containing slips of paper printed with large, unadorned letters. The visitor can sit down on the step bordering the lawn, and begin to read the inscriptions…

Rainer Sachse,

scape Landschaftsarchitekten

Construction site of the memorial in 2011
Photograph C. Ahlborn


Zettelkasten is the artistic element of the concept for the redevelopment of the plot of the former Marburg synagogue.

Our point of departure was thinking about the myriad gaps and gaping holes the Shoah has left behind. One of those gaps, both in a literal and a broader sense, is represented by the synagogue grounds in Universitätsstrasse and the condition of the site during the past decades, symbolizing not only the destruction of the synagogue but also the attempt to eradicate a whole culture. Its redevelopment aims at reconnecting the empty plot ’abandoned by time’ with its urban surroundings, enabling the former vacant lot to grow into a garden of remembrance.

In contrast to conventional memorials which rely on fixed and durable texts of commemoration graven in stone or cast in bronze, we would like to initiate a project demanding and continually evolving an active discussion about the site, its history and function as well as about the people connected with it – a memorial oscillating between a permanent marker and a continuing debate which attempts to infuse the act of remembrance with a sense of urgency and vitality neglected by any mere reference to a terrible historical event or any solidified gesture of mourning and dismay.

Remembrance is here coupled to dialogue by means of ten glass cases embedded in the ground in the spot where the prayer hall of the synagogue used to be located.

These glass cases contain ten statements concerning the site and its history and the people who used to be or still are related to it.

The first batch of statements are the result of interviews with members of the former Jewish community of Marburg or with their children, now living in Israel, conducted by us.

In these interviews – which took place seventy years after the November pogroms –, we were concerned less with the gathering of eyewitness accounts in an oral history sense than with the perspectives open to a culture of remembrance passing beyond the era of contemporary witnesses. By talking to the people closely connected to the former synagogue of Marburg and its community, we wanted to find out for whom the site is charged with meaning, to whom it belongs, what should properly be said and communicated there and which function it could assume in future.

The ten statements collected thus simultaneously form the basis and mark the starting point of a discourse to be continued next year when another group of persons will be invited to offer their views about the site of the former synagogue. These talks will, in turn, form the basis for the next batch of statements to be installed in the Zettelkästen and at the same time documented on this homepage.

Oliver Gather and Christian Ahlborn

Inaugural  address
by Mayor Egon Vaupel

A memorial right in the heart of the city is at once a gain and a challenge. By creating the “garden of remembrance“ on the site of the synagogue which was destroyed by the Nazis in the night of 9 November 1938, we want to reintegrate a major site of Jewish cultural life into the everyday life of the city of Marburg. The newly designed site invites people to stop by and to concern themselves with the historical events, the architecture of the destroyed synagogue, and contemporary Jewish life in our city. The carefully designed site permits to rethink remembrance in terms of an active engagement which will also involve young people. This aim is also furthered by the Zettelkasten arts project, furnishing information on the site as well as providing room for personal questions and contributions. In realizing the concept proposed by the Düsseldorf-based office scape Landschaftsarchitekten in collaboration with the artist team Gather / Ahlborn, which was awarded first prize in the competition for the site’s redevelopment, the City of Marburg and the Jewish community have created both an appropriate place of remembrance and a vibrant meeting place right in the middle of the city.

Mayor Vaupel on the occasion of the commemoration
on 09/11/2011 / Photograph C. Ahlborn

The Garden of Remembrance
Former Synagogue
Universitätsstrasse Marburg




Amnon Orbach on
the new Mermorial Place

Oliver Gather and Christian
Ahlborn on the project