Digital reconstruction of destroyed synagogues

Digital reconstruction of destroyed synagogues

Digital reconstruction of a synagogue in Cologne. Image: IKA/TU Darmstadt
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Digital reconstruction of a synagogue in Cologne. Image: IKA/TU Darmstadt

Wherever the products of their research are shown – in Berlin, Tel Aviv, New York, or Detroit – they trigger strong emotions. They stir painful memories and create a profound sense of regret at the loss of culture that they recreate. They are faithful and visually fascinating computer reconstructions of architecturally valuable buildings and facilities, destroyed over the centuries by human hands around the globe, now recreated by TU Darmstadt's Department of Information and Communication Technology in Architecture. At the centre of the project is the visualisation of synagogues that were reduced to ashes during the Nazi regime in Germany. Modern Information Technology thus becomes a new form of cultural memory.

Several dozen students at TU Darmstadt have worked on this very labour-intensive project with great dedication and success since 1995. Head of Department, Professor Manfred Koob, and Dipl.-Ing. Marc Grellert maintain an interactive public online archive with basic information on more than 2,200 German and Austrian synagogues. Any user can contribute their own commentaries, images, links or witnesses’ reports from anywhere in the world.

A new kind of museum

Exterior view of the digitally reconstructed Dortmund Synagogue. Image: IKA/TU Darmstadt
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Exterior view of the digitally reconstructed Dortmund Synagogue. Image: IKA/TU Darmstadt

TU Darmstadt’s documentation has given birth to an exhibition for the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills near Detroit, with large projections of 3-D CAD images and explanations on the process of digital reconstruction. The show will tour American museums in major cities.

Scientist Manfred Koob's mission is to immerse people in new worlds: in virtual form, he has told the construction history of the Kremlin in Moscow as well as that of Cluny Abbey, the Temple of the Khmer, St. Peter's Cathedral in Rome, and the Imperial Tombs in China's ancient capital of Xi'an. Koob's “Digital Virtual Olympic Museum”, a contribution to the 2008 Beijing Games, could become the blueprint for the museum of the 21st century.

“We Germans have faced our history, and we will not stop grappling with it. I am glad that especially our young people continue to ask questions. (…) In Darmstadt, students at the Technische Universität have reconstructed destroyed synagogues in many German cities on the computer screen and put the images and floor-plans online – as a source of information and as a virtual memorial. Countless examples like this show that the memory of the National Socialist regime of terror and the remembrance of those who were persecuted and killed are still alive in us.”

Federal President Horst Köhler, speech on the occasion of the Day of Remembrance for the Victims of National Socialism, 27 January 2009