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Cologne’s Old Jewish Quarter
Jewish and General Cologne
Cologne City Highlights
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The Jews of Cologne are proud to belong to the oldest Jewish community in Europe north of the Alps. Stepping into the mikveh of Cologne found at the heart of the former Jewish Quarter, and dating back to the 12th century, one feels a remarkable connection with the many generations of Jews of the Rhineland.
It is said that the community moved to the city as early as the year 70 CE, traveling up the Rhine with the Romans. The origins of Jewish life and its two millennia-tradition in Germany, seem very palpable as one descends the original steps of the mikveh to the clear ground water fed by the River Rhine.
Signs of Jewish history are present throughout Cologne. In the Gothic City Hall three of the ‘Nine Worthies’ or ‘Nine Good Heroes’are representative of Jewish history in the carved images of Judas Maccabeus, King David and the prophet Joshua. Offenbach Square is named after the 19th century influential composer of popular music, son of a cantor, Jacques Offenbach. Forerunners of Theodor Herzl, such as Max Isidor Bodenheimer and David Wolffsohn, worked in Cologne in the early 20th century, turning the city into one of the most important centers of the Zionist movement. They are remembered with a memorial plaque.
The struggle of the Jews of Cologne to free themselves from ancient discriminatory laws was exemplary. After an expulsion in 1424, Jews returned under Napoleon’s rule and the community served as a model of Jewish emancipation in Germany. Cologne became the most populous and economically powerful city in the Rhineland, while the Jewish community contributed to and enjoyed that prosperity.
One of the six pre-war synagogues has been re-built. A good example of the important Holocaust memory work taking place in Germany today is the ‘Stumbling Blocks’ (Stolpersteine) project initiated by Cologne artist Gunter Demnig.
Today, the Jewish community of Cologne has more than 6,000 members and a well-developed infrastructure, including both liberal and orthodox services, a Jewish kindergarten and school, a youth club and the excellent kosher restaurant Weiss.
For those wishing to explore the towns on both banks of the Rhine, many signs of Jewish life and history are still accessible: yet another reason to include this magical city on the Rhine in your Germany tour.
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