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Munich’s Jewish Community Rebuilds What Hitler Destroyed

MUNICH (dpa) – Munich’s Jewish community, the second biggest in Germany after Berlin, is to get a new centre.

Costing around 65 million marks (30 million dollars), the facility in downtown Munich will house a synagogue, a community centre and a Jewish Museum. The planning is now in the final phases after two architectural design competitions were held, and the new buildings are to be completed by 2005.

“With the project, Munich’s Jewry will again have a presence like it was before the Nazi period,” says Charlotte Knobloch, who chairs the Israelite Cultural Community of Munich and Upper Bavaria.

At the moment the Jewish community has its seat in a narrow house, and located behind it is the synagogue.

“The new community centre will draw the Jewish people out from their present back-yard atmosphere,” Knobloch says, expressing hopes that the project can restore harmony between Jews and non-Jews in the Bavarian capital.

“The new centre will symbolise a community now blossoming anew,” she adds. With 8,000 members, the Munich Jewish community ranks in size behind Berlin but ahead of that in Frankfurt.

To be located on Jacob’s Square in the heart of town, the new centre will be right across the street from the Munich City Museum and three minutes’ walk from the Town Hall.

The project will see to it that “one of the ugliest wounds of war will be closed in the old city and that Jewry will be assured a future in a prominent location in our city”, Munich’s Social Democrat mayor Christian Ude said.

Plans call for offices, a community room, a kindergarden, and a kosher restaurant in the centre.

“This will be a mini-town. There we will have – except for a cemetery – all the facilities needed from the time of birth until death,” Knobloch said.

The financing has for the 65 million-mark project has largely been resolved, with the Bavarian state government to provide a grant of 14 million marks. A further 40 million marks will come from the sale of a city-owned property in downtown Munich where the splendid old synagogue, built at the end of the 19th Century, had once stood.

That synagogue was torn down on the personal orders of Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler in June 1938 – five months before the Nazi-orchestrated “crystal night” destruction of synagogues and Jewish properties in cities around Germany.

A department store next to the site is planning to build an extension on the property, with the proceeds from this to go towards the financing of the new centre. In return, the Jewish community will refrain from exercising its right to block the new construction, which it could do under the existing property zoning rules.

Though the city remains the owner of the property site, it will let the Jewish community use and develop free of charge in a long-term lease. Knobloch says that only thanks to the large-scale support, particularly from the city of Munich, has the financing been possible for the project.

The remaining 11 million marks in the financing is to come from donations and sponsors.

In the second architectural design competition, a jury unanimously approved the plans of the Saarbruecken architects Wandel-Hoefer-Lorch, who also have planned the new synagogue for Dresden. The design calls for three separate buildings – a synagogue, community centre and museum.

The synagogue is to consist of a two-storeyed room surrounded by squared walls, and perched on top will be a roughly 10-metre diametre cube of glass.

The glass panes held up by steel supporting beams will be backed by brass-coloured woven metal which lets the light through. During daylight, this will flood the internal synagogue room with a warm light coming from all sides, said jury chairman Professor Max Baecher.

He praised the architectural design as avoiding both modest restraint or demonstrative showiness in order to create a “self-evident presence”.

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