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Virtual reconstruction of the Great Synagogue in Erfurt is handed over

For some years now, destroyed synagogues have been reconstructed virtually. Among them is now the reconstruction of the Great Synagogue in Erfurt, which was consecrated in 1884 and destroyed by the National Socialists in 1938. The project was developed by the history museums of the city of Erfurt together with the University of Applied Sciences Erfurt and the universities of Erfurt and Jena and provides users with an interactive virtual reality environment for the first time. Using VR glasses, they can move around the synagogue independently and explore its history with images, audio clips, music and a film. At the same time, a web 3D model with all content is available on the internet.

historical photograph of the Great Synagogue in Erfurt
Source: City Archive

The legal equality of Jews after 1871 opened up opportunities for their social emancipation. Their commitment changed art and culture, the economy and society.  With the Great Synagogue, consecrated in 1884, the growing Jewish community in Erfurt created its religious and cultural centre. But the National Socialists destroyed this rich Jewish life in Thuringia. The interactive virtual reality application now brings the Great Synagogue, destroyed in the November pogrom of 1938, back to the city's memory.

The project "Virtual Reconstruction of the Great Synagogue of Erfurt" makes it possible for the first time to experience one of the destroyed synagogues in Thuringia again. A virtual reality (VR) environment is used, in which the viewers experience the illusion of a realistic historical perception of space: With the help of VR glasses and hand controllers, they can travel back in time and experience the Great Synagogue as it was before its destruction. For this purpose, the building, but also its furnishings and important objects of Jewish life are defined and then transferred into an interactive room. This room can then be explored individually in its original size. In addition, historical contexts, but also rites and customs of Jewish life in and around a synagogue are explained.

The virtual reality application of the Great Synagogue of Erfurt will be presented to the public on 5 September 2021, the European Day of Jewish Culture, at 5 p.m. in the Small Synagogue in Erfurt. Visitors to the Small Synagogue and guests of the Jewish Community in the New Synagogue will be able to use the VR glasses from that time on. At the same time, a web 3D model of the Great Synagogue of Erfurt will be accessible on www.juedisches-leben-thuringen.de and on www.juedisches-leben.erfurt.de.

The Research Centre for Historical Media at the University of Erfurt has created the Instagram channel "Jewish Life in 3D", which was launched in March and provides ongoing information about the project on the topics of knowledge, places, portraits, culture and current events.

The cooperation project was funded by the Thuringian State Chancellery as part of the theme year "Nine Centuries of Jewish Life in Thuringia". 

On the occasion of the handover of the virtual reconstruction, a press conference will take place on Wednesday, 1 September, at 11 a.m. in the New Synagogue of the Jewish State Community, Max-Cars-Platz 1. The following persons will be available for discussion:

  • Professor Reinhard Schramm (Chairman of the Jewish Community)
  • Rabbi Alexander Nachama
  • Bodo Ramelow (Prime Minister of Thuringia)
  • Dr Tobias J. Knoblich (Councillor for Culture and Urban Development)
  • Dr Annegret Schüle (Project Manager)
  • Professor Yvonne Brandenburger, Dr Andreas Christoph, Professor Rolf Kruse, Professor Christiane Kuller, Professor Patrick Rössler (project partners)

The number of participants is limited. Therefore, please register by e-mail: annegret.schuele@erfurt.de. Male visitors are also asked to wear headgear when visiting the synagogue.