My last posts covered some of the attractions in Mainz, the markets, the cathedrals and museums (see here, here and here). Another place we had highlighted to visit on our trip was the Judengasse Museum (Jewish Lane) and Friedhof (Cemetery) in nearby Frankfurt am Main. Since it was a rather wet and dreary day in Mainz, we decided to take the short train ride (about 25 minutes) up to Frankfurt with our aim to take in the Jewish Museum there. We could have walked from the Hauptbahnhof (main station) but with the inclement weather opted to take the U Bahn out there – a few stops on the metro to Konstablerwache Station. The Museum is situated a short walk away on the corner of Battonnstrasse.
The Jewish Museum in Frankfurt is actually in the midst of renovations and currently only a part of it covering the Early Modern period of history up to 1800 is open to the public. Another permanent exhibition of Jewish life in Germany post 1800 is due to open in the old Rothschilds’ house (Rothschild Palais) in April 2020.
In 1987 excavations in Battonnstrasse uncovered what turned out to be the remains of old Jewish settlements. In fact it was the site of the Judengasse and the old Jewish ghetto, which had first been built in 1492 when the authorities forced all Jewish residents to relocate to one small part of town. The crescent-shaped ghetto built up over the centuries to form a rabbit warren of buildings, many housing several families together, with their lives all closely controlled by the local authorities. The Judengasse was surrounded by walls and access was only possible via three gates, which were closed each night and on Christian holidays.
Over the years many residents became wealthy and there were some fine homes occupied by wealthy merchants plus a couple of beautifully decorated synagogues. From an original population of only about 150 to 200 people the Jewish quarter grew to 3000 in the 18th century before being dissolved in 1796. Not surprisingly given the confined quarters, a huge fire broke out in 1711 burning most of the ghetto to the ground though it was later reconstructed (see here for more information).
We were able to visit the exhibition depicting Jewish life during the period up to the closure of the ghetto in the late 18th century. There were some old photos including one taken of the Judengasse in the 19th century when only half of the original buildings were still intact following the relaxation of the Ghetto restrictions. An interactive model of the Judengasse and its homes provided a visual idea of the proximity of the homes, the inhabitants and their daily lives.
The main section is a fascinating tour through half a dozen of the houses excavated in the 1980s, again interspersed with some background information on some of the residents who lived here. The photos are rather dark owing to the low lighting in the museum and the prohibition of flash photography, but hopefully they convey an idea of the exhibits.
Outside the museum we visited the Boerneplatz Memorial Site – a wall covered with simple stone plaques commemorating the lives of Frankfurt residents murdered during the Holocaust (known as the Shoah by the Jewish people). It was a moving tribute adjacent to the remains of the old Jewish Friedhof (Cemetery). The Battonnstrasse Cemetery is the second oldest preserved Jewish cemetery north of the Alps. The oldest is in Worms, on the River Rhine south of Mainz, which we also visited later in our trip. Although many gravestones were destroyed by the Nazis during the 2nd World War some graves were preserved and the end of the war thankfully interrupted further destruction. You can get the cemetery gate key from the desk in the Jewish Museum for a security fee if you wish to look round. We were, however, able to peer through the cemetery gates and see the tree-filled area with the remaining graves over to one side. It was a moving experience – the oldest graves date back to 1272.
The Jewish Museum is well worth a visit if you are in the Frankfurt am Main area – it’s a poignant and fascinating insight into the way of life in the old Judengasse in Frankfurt.
Copyright © 2019 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved