Excavations in the Grounds of the
Former Jewish Synagogue

In connection with the work on an official publication of the city of Marburg on the architecture and history of the synagogue, compiled by the former head of the local department of building, Elmar Brohl, and tentative proposals to erect a new synagogue on the site, it had become clear that the foundations and subterranean parts of the building which had been burned to the ground in 1938 were likely to have survived. As the Jewish community of Marburg had installed a new synagogue at Liebigstrasse in 2005, the discovery of the remains of the former synagogue on the site at Universitätsstrasse prompted an examination of a possible redevelopment of the memorial site established there in 1963. Accordingly, in early 2008 the City of Marburg and the Jewish community as the owner of the plot agreed to create a memorial site providing information on the impressive architecture of the former synagogue and the historical events connected with its erection and destruction. To this end, it was necessary to first mount a comprehensive archaeological examination of the site, which was carried out in the summer of 2008 by the Freies Institut für Bauforschung und Dokumentation on behalf of the City of Marburg.

As was to be expected, the archaeologists discovered remains of the original building, including remnants of the exterior walls of the former community centre and the foundations of the pillars carrying the cupola of the former synagogue. Of particular note, however, proved the discovery of the ladies’ bath, consecrated in 1897 along with the synagogue, which was dedicated to the ritual ablutions of the believers. It has largely been preserved, and its flooring and wall tiles have remained intact. During the excavations the archaeologists also discovered the rainwater reservoir and plumbing through which the water was transported into the immersion basin. Moreover several steps leading down to the bath have been preserved.

Monika Bunk, Jürgen Rausch, A Garden of Remembrance in the Universitätsstrasse  in: Studier mal, Marburg, January 2010


The Second Glass Panel

Upon excavating the foundations of the former synagogue in preparation for the beginning of the construction work in late 2011, the archaeologists also came upon the base of the former synagogue. This discovery led to deliberations on whether a second glass panel enabling a view of the base should be installed as well.

The concept of the team awarded the first prize in the competition, however, runs counter to the idea of a second such glass panel; it would break up the tranquil, monolithic sculpture whose single reference to the spiritual significance of the site is the installation of the one glass panel above the mikveh. Moreover this panel is aligned to an axis pointing to the recess formerly accommodating the torah; thus the holiest place of the destroyed synagogue is paid special homage.

During the new deliberations on whether a view of the synagogue’s base should be integrated into the concept, four different variations of a second glass panel were developed, listing all the pros and cons of each proposal. These variations – which can be studied by clicking on the appropriate links in the right-hand-column – have been comprehensively discussed with the Jewish community.

In the case of the first three proposals, only a view of the foundations from above would be possible; accordingly they have been rejected.

The fourth proposal – a glass panel covering the front edge of the sculpture – would theoretically also enable visitors to view the front of the foundations. This proposal, however, has likewise been rejected as this edge would, so as to provide the necessary stability, have to be fashioned either from massive materials such as for example steel or from extremely thick glass. In either case the requisite transparency would be lost; in the case of a double-glazed edge, the refraction of light caused by the required thickness of the glass would result in opacity, colouring the edge an impenetrable green. Moreover the realization of this proposal would have been extremely expensive.

In view of the fact that none of the proposals would enable the desired view of the foundations while simultaneously safeguarding the archaeological concerns for an appropriate protection of the finds, and considering also the principal idea of the original concept as well as the high additional costs involved, the idea of a second glass panel was finally rejected altogether. In order to enable a permanent visibility of all finds these have been documented on film. The film “Archaeological Excavations on the Site of the Former Jewish Synagogue in Universitätsstrasse“, which also provides explanations of the nature and significance of the finds, can be viewed here.

Bernd Nützel, June 2012




Excavations on the site
of the former synagogue
© IBD Marburg

Alternative proposals
for a second glass panel

Here you can download
the various plans.n