«We are very lucky to be working on an outstanding archaeological excavation.»
Four questions for Christiane Twiehaus
Medieval and ancient Jewish history is written among others by archaeological findings. In Basel, gravestones from the 13th and 14th centuries were discovered during the construction of the Kollegienhaus of the University of Basel in 1937. They have been on display in the courtyard of the Jewish Museum since 1966 – this year, the oldest is 800 years old. In Cologne, an entire Jewish quarter is currently being uncovered. Dr. Christiane Twiehaus of the project «MiQua LVR-Jüdische Museum im Archäologischen Quartier Köln» spoke to Dr. Naomi Lubrich about what to expect when the museum opens, about the everyday life of Jews on the Rhine, and about medieval exchanges between Cologne and Basel.
Naomi Lubrich: Christiane, MiQua is one of the most exciting museum projects on Jewish life in the Middle Ages. How far along are you?
Christiane Twiehaus: We are halfway through. We’re preparing the future permanent exhibition, conducting archaeological and historical research as well as Jewish studies, and at the same time, we’re building the museum structure. Ultimately, we’ll show a tour through 2000 years of city history, which will include an area of about 6500 square meters of archaeology. Roman findings are omnipresent in Cologne, the layer above them is the medieval Jewish area.
NL: Which documents have you been studying, and what do they say about the everyday life of Jews in Cologne?
CT: For the sections on Jewish history and culture, I have been studying Hebrew written sources from the Middle Ages that tell us about life in Cologne and its surrounding area from an inner-Jewish perspective. These sources are important. If we were to limit ourselves to church and city documents, the story would be very one-sided, it would be a long list of letters of protection and debt certificates. By looking at the Hebrew sources, we can learn, among others, about Jewish daily life, dietary choices, the installation of an eruv (demarcation of a Jewish residential area), and local traditions in the synagogue. Some interesting but colloquial matters have been handed down, such as the legal question: A chicken falls from a wall. Is it still kosher? It could have internal injuries. Upon this question, one of the rabbis decided – pragmatically – not to worry.
NL: In the 12th to the 14th centuries, Basel also had a vibrant Jewish community. Do you know of any contacts between Jews in Basel and Cologne? How connected were the communities along the Rhine?
CT: That’s an exciting question! It reminds me of the first major exhibition after the Shoah on Jewish history and culture along the Rhine, the «Monumenta Judaica» here in Cologne in 1963 and 1964, which showed important Judaica from Basel. The Rhine has always been a trade route, an artery for culture, a lifeline. The connections between the communities were traditionally close, most importantly in the SchUM cities, Speyer, Worms and Mayence. Thanks to reliable documents about individuals, we know for instance about a certain Salman from Basel. Originally from Cologne, he lived in Basel starting in 1284. He then left Basel a few years later to return to Cologne via Mayence. Then he became a member of Cologne’s so-called Judenrat (Jewish Councillor). It seems that he was an illustrious man with high offices and several houses in the Jewish quarter. From his will we know about of his belongings.
NL: Which questions will your project address in the future?
CT: We are lucky to be working on an outstanding archaeological excavation. We will be focussing on the question «What is typical of Cologne?» for example in liturgy or halacha. We are also interested in normal everyday life: How did Jews make their living, what can we say about their exchange with the Christian population, which were their common areas, how much coexistence was there at different levels, and what can we deduce from the archaeological finds? We want to show that Jewish life was an integral part of Cologne – not a world apart.
NL: Christiane, we are looking forward to visiting MiQua when it opens. Thank you very much for your insight!
verfasst am 09.09.2022
© Illustartion: Marva Gradwohl