«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