Monday, April 1, 2013
Plans for Jewish museum in Cologne around excavations contested by local opposition
Excavations in the centre of Cologne.
After long being sidelined for Roman excavations, an archaeological dig in western Germany has unearthed myriad traces of daily life in one of Europe's oldest and largest Jewish communities.
From ceramic dishes and tools to toys, animal bones and jewelry, some 250,000 artifacts have so far shed light on various periods in 2,000 years of the city of Cologne's history, the AFP news agency reported.
But plans to display the findings, discovered since 2007 by head archaeologist Sven Schuette's team at the 32,800 square-foot (10,000 square-meter) city centre dig, in a new museum have proved divisive.
From the 10th to 12th centuries, Cologne, today Germany's fourth-largest city, was one of Europe's biggest cities, even ahead of Paris and London, with about 50,000 inhabitants. Its prosperous Jewish community numbered nearly 1,000 at its height.
On Hebrew-inscribed fragments of slate, aspects of daily life from the Middle Ages have intriguingly come to light via school children's teachings, rules and regulations, a bawdy knight's tale and even a bakery's customer list, AFP reported.
The history of the city's Jewish quarter spans 1,000 years, from Late Antiquity to the Middle Ages, and far from being closed-off, it was open and adjoined the Roman governor's imposing palace and later the city hall. The first traces of Jewish life date from the year 321, the Jewish paper Juedische Allgemeine reported. Two events finally sounded the death knell for the Jewish quarter – a crusader massacre in 1096, followed by its eventual annihilation in 1349 when the Christians made the Jews the scapegoat for a black plague epidemic.
Archaeologists hope to see their treasures on display in the new museum by 2017.
"It won't be a so-called ghetto museum limited to presenting religious artifacts but a museum tracing this quarter's daily life, its integration in to the Christian city, with the positive and negative aspects," Schuette told the news agency.
According to the Juedische Allgemeine there is a decision to build the museum for an amount of 52 million euro as off October 2012. But the project has its detractors and opponents. The opposition conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) on the local council have attacked the plan over its cost and condemned as "madness" spending this amount when the city is already deeply in debt. "Cologne cannot allow itself to build a new museum," leading local CDU politician Volker Meertz said, also questioning how it would stand out from the Jewish museum in Berlin. Some 2,800 people have signed a broad-based petition against the museum.