The Neue Synagoge with its shimmering gilded dome is one of Berlin’s most beautiful buildings. It is a memorial and an important centre of Jewish life.
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On the night of the 9th of November 1938, synagogues all over Germany were burnt down. The SA also set fire to the Neue Synagoge in Berlin, but the head of the local police precinct, Wilhelm Krützfeld, insisting that it was a historical listed building, called the fire brigade to put out the fire. He was one of the few people on the night of the November Pogrom to stand up to the destruction and the persecution of their Jewish neighbours.
Today, the golden dome of the synagogue still gleams over the centre of Berlin. The building, which houses a permanent exhibition, is not only one of the city’s most outstanding buildings, but also a centre of Jewish culture and an important place of remembrance.
The history of the Neue Synagoge
Once, the Neue Synagoge was the biggest and most magnificent Jewish places of worship in Germany, and a confident expression of Berlin’s established Jewish citizenry. Designed by Eduard Knoblauch in the Moorish style, it was built between 1859 and 1866. When Knoblauch became seriously ill, Friedrich August Stüler took over the construction. Stüler was a major Prussian figure at the time, a student of Karl Friedrich Schinkel and one of Berlin’s foremost architects. With its ingenious spatial design and the sophisticated steel structure of its galleries and roof, the Neue Synagoge was an architectural wonder of its day. The large main hall and the galleries have space for up to 3000 worshippers. The building was crowned by a gilded dome visible for miles around. The entrance facade is lavishly decorated with brick ornamentation and flanked by two towers, also topped with gilded domes.
Not everyone in the Jewish community was enamoured with its bombastic style. Liberals felt that the Moorish style emphasised the otherness of their religion. Some conservatives who rejected other innovations left the congregation and founded the orthodox community Adass Jisroel.
In the second world war, bombs almost completely destroyed the building. After the war there was only a small Jewish community in East Berlin. In 1958, the authorities demolished the main hall of the synagogue, saying that it was at risk of collapsing. Only the parts of the parts of the building facing the street remained as a memorial against war and fascism.
On the 50th anniversary of the November Pogrom, a foundation called Stiftung Neue Synagoge Berlin – Centrum Judaicum was established with the purpose of rebuilding the synagogue. The restored and modernised building opened in 1995, after German reunification. Instead of reconstructing the demolished building, only the façade and the gilded dome were restored. Stones set in the ground indicate the huge size of the original synagogue and give a striking impression of the destruction.
The Neue Synagoge and the Centrum Judaicum are now one of the most important centres of Jewish life in Germany.
Although the building has a prayer room, it was not rededicated as a synagogue. It is a focal point for Jewish life in Berlin, an assembly venue, and a place of teaching and learning with an archive and a large library for academic research.
The permanent exhibition Open ye the Gates
The permanent exhibition Open ye the Gates tells the story of the building and the life associated with it. A tour of the exhibition with its documents and exhibits gives an impression of the diverse forms that Jewish life took in this part of Berlin.
Information for schools
A guided tour of the Open ye the Gates exhibition shows pupils how diverse the forms of Jewish life used to be. During the tour, they can get an idea of the sheer size of the original main hall of the synagogue in the open area behind the restored building. The discount price of a guided tour of for up to 30 pupils is 43 euros plus admission.
The museum Stiftung Neue Synagoge Berlin – Centrum Judaicum is closed until Spring 2018.