Michelsberg Synagogue in Wiesbaden

A Virtual Reconstruction





For the 9/10th of November 1998 - 60 years after the persecution of German Jews became murderous - a spectacular project of remembrance was started. It brought together a group of teachers and students under the name of “memo 38” at the University of Applied Sciences Wiesbaden (Fachhochschule) Department of Interior Design. The team began to virtually reconstruct the Wiesbaden synagogue destroyed in 1938 by means of 3D-computer-animation in order to contribute their share against forgetting.


With history in mind they set out to gather a mosaic of information. Since there do not exist any remains or plans of the synagogue, the reconstruction could make use of only some old photographs, post cards, rough drawings and historic text documents. Thanks to communication with many sources, archives, and especially people it was possible to collect numerous facts about the synagogue and gain new insides. Working for two years, using modern computer techniques, and constantly in search for sponsors, they created a virtual reconstruction of the beautiful Michelsberg Synagogue. The results are stunning and were displayed as video on a large screen directly at the site on November 9th 1998, 1999 and 2000.


The study released discussions and intensive dealing with the recent past. Trying to virtually reconstruct and  visualize what  has been made unrecognizable may keep memory alive against forgetting.

History of the site in 133 years


August 13th , the Synagogue of the Wiesbaden Jewish Congregation on Michelsberg, a street leading to the center of the fashionable spa town, designed by the locally renowned architect Philipp Hoffmann, was consecrated. Built in the colorful “Moorish” style of the period, the new Synagogue was a statement of the success and self-confidence of the Jewish community at that time. It also proved the firm establishment of the reform movement by including an organ and a mixed choir.



Images from the early twentieth century show how the synagogue had been well blended into the Wiesbaden skyline. Located on the slope of a hill and on top of a stone base, the blue dome ornate with golden stars was seen from the distance. In the 1920ies and in the 1930ies, the community offices and meeting rooms were across the street.



In the night of November 9th, hundreds of synagogues in Germany were destroyed by the Nazis during the pogroms of the “Kristallnacht”. Among them the Wiesbaden Synagogue was set aflame in the early morning hours of the 10th. This fire was extinguished by firemen. The second attempt of the arsonists was successful because the police forced the fire brigade to protect only the neighboring buildings. The entire interior of the synagogue was destroyed, the main dome collapsed.



The ruined building was demolished and removed in summer of 1939.
It was very interesting for the students of the project “memo 38” to track down the demolition contractor. A descendant is still living in
Wiesbaden. She owns a photographic documentation of her father’s contracts, including the one demolishing the synagogue. These photos provided valuable information about the construction of the building.



The pedestal base was finally removed after the war. At this time the road was enlarged. Subsequently, all visible traces of the synagogue disappeared.



During the fifties and sixties the site was a small park “Heinrich Heine Anlage” and a stone sculpture was put up. Once a year in November an hour of remembrance took place. Considering what happened afterwards, the site was at least kept free as a place of respect to its historical relevance.



In the early 1970's, as part of a traffic plan, a road bridge was built across the site. The existing stone memento was moved behind the overpass and people forgot about the existence of the synagogue.



In the last two decades, proposals have been made to redesign the site, including to tear down the controversial bridge.
A well-attended commemoration  event was held on the site on
November  9th, 1988, fifty years after the destruction.



An installation called FRAGMENTS consisting of several elements was erected by the architect Heinrich Lessing and the Active Museum group. It was to give to the site a new significant meaning demonstrating the loss of the building, and commemorating the Jewish Community who perished. Since 1996 until today events and outdoor exhibitions are being staged at the site.



The “memo 38  film recreated the impression of the synagogue for the first time directly at the site  during the commemoration of 9th of November. Again in 1999 and 2000 the virtual synagogue film was shown in front of the overpass on a large screen.



In April the demolition of the bridge began. A new chapter was opened.


2002In August the memo 38” show and film were opened in a new exhibition space at city hall.


The Project

In March 1998 Interior Design students started the "memo 38" group and began to work on the computer reconstruction of the destroyed Synagogue of Wiesbaden. The project was divided into two parts: For November 1998 the exterior was reconstructed, for November 1999 the interior of the synagogue was presented by a computer animated film. The name "memo 38" evokes memory, memorial, commemoration and "post it".





Since the construction files with plans and drawings have been lost completely, the “memo38” group’s research depended on collecting photographs gathered from local citizens and information provided by historical institutions and archives. First the search in Wiesbaden took place but soon it became apparent that the local material was not sufficient for the reconstruction of the interior. Some photos had gone abroad with emigrants and fortunately were discovered by personal communication.


One turned up at the Jewish Museum in Paris; it was most valuable because it had been taken before a redecoration of the interior around 1904. The ornaments matched the few sketches by the architect Philipp Hoffmann that survived in the architect's family and are now part of the historical collection of the Wiesbaden Museum. Since these drawings and watercolors are the only information of the color scheme which the architect designed, they could then be the basis of our texture colors. Some questions could not be answered with documents. They were solved by studying similar buildings. The Berlin Synagogue was build just 3 years earlier, of this edifice in the same style some good drawings survived, in contrast to Wiesbaden. Consultation with members of the local Wiesbaden Jewish community, both of the former congregation and the one of today became very important. Their recollections helped with more accurate coloring of the tiles and other details.


The experience to connect to those, who actually still remember the original synagogue was very important for the students. Thus they learned about the passing of time. People get older and when they die, they take their memories with them. Now is the very last moment to receive authentic information from personal recollections.


The most moving encounters occurred with survivors who had prayed and sung in the beautiful sanctuary. When they saw the work in progress they often reacted emotionally. Marthel Hirsch, New York, who had played the organ in Wiesbaden from 1936 to 1938, opened her photo album and provided the only inside view of the dome and of the organ table.



Paulgerd Jesberg, teacher at the university, had prepared geometrical studies that sharpened the understanding of the building's proportions. By combining his information with a close analysis of the photographs, it was possible to determine scales and measurements.

Due to the architectural complexity of the synagogue, erected 1869 by Philipp Hoffmann in Moorish style, the computer reconstruction and visualization has been organized in two phases of representation, first the exterior, then the interior.

Next the building was divided into separate segments and each student was assigned a different segment for editing. An intensive analysis of each element and its ornaments with the magnifying glass followed. The next step was to develop construction drawings for scaling.




Once the modeling of each segment was completed, they were reassembled to form a single wire frame model. Then the textures were mapped over the frame and supplied exterior finishes to create the building's skin. By using some original water-colored design sketches by the architect Philipp Hoffmann a RGB-color range was developed to create the most realistic color impression of the interior decoration.  As a next step the storyboard was developed, different camera tracks were checked and the scene design, lights, and atmosphere were created. After the rendering the computer animation was edited at a postproduction studio in Frankfurt. The result is a ten-minutes VCR of professional standard.




The content of the project is not nearly an abstract architectural object. This film is a visible, virtual and enduring memorial to the Wiesbaden Jewish community. What began solely as an undertaking of computer reconstruction broadened into a significant historical and sociological research project. It is of immense value not only for the project team but also for anyone interested in architectural and social history. Computer technology and the Internet may prove to be an effective tool in communicating and commemorating historical events, buildings, and artifacts. Out of the shards of history this CAD animation revives and recreates memory.



After more than 12.000 hours of work the project was completed. A number of Jews from Wiesbaden and their families had the opportunity to see the film. They appreciated young people in Wiesbaden spending so much time and energy with this project. The film was displayed on a large screen directly at the site several times, for the 9th of November commemoration. Afterwards a construction container was used as a temporary exhibition space. It also received press and radio coverage. In 2000, an exhibition was designed and shown in the Active Museum Of German Jewish History Wiesbaden. The innovative approach including the musical tradition to a topic of Jewish culture caught the interest of scholars, experts of heritage protection and archeologists. The team was invited to conferences and presentations at various universities and research institutes. The quality of the film design and the use of music were acknowledged by the “animago 3D-award” 1999 and 2000. By applying CAD to the topic of German Jewish history the visitors were confronted by the theme of commemoration.


In August 2002 the memo 38” show and film were opened in a new exhibition space at city hall.


memo 38


A project of the Department of Interior Design
at the Fachhochschule Wiesbaden



Fachhochschule Wiesbaden

University of Applied Sciences


Department of Interior Design

Unter den Eichen 5

65195 Wiesbaden /Germany.


Fon:     +49 (0) 611 / 1880 171

Fax:     +49 (0) 611 / 1880 173

E-Mail: info@memo38.de




project director

Dipl. Des. Edgar Brück


academic director

Dipl. Ing. Paulgerd Jesberg

Prof. Dr. Ing. Falk Krebs


computer reconstruction and animation:

Dipl. Ing. Claudia Bube

Jürgen Eckhardt

Dipl. Ing. Yiliu Fan
Elisabeth Hammerschick

Johannes Henn

Dipl. Ing. Karin Kümmerer
Marina Leis

Ludowika Mann
Dipl. Ing.
Gunter Metz
Barbara Petri
Dipl. Ing. Renate Scheurer
René Stichel
Dipl. Ing.
Petra Thonhofer
Vera Thumm
Dipl. Ing.
Ellen Wagner
Susanne Wilhelm

camera and cut:

IVT postproduction house GmbH

Joscha Brück



IVT postproduction house GmbH

Piers Freeman

Scott Lockwood




Christian Listmann

historical research:

Dipl. Ing. Karin Kümmerer 

Dipl. Ing. Renate Scheurer

Dipl. Ing. Ellen Wagner


historical advice:

Active Museum of German Jewish History

Lothar Bembenek

Dorothee Lottmann-Kaeseler

Dipl. Ing. Heinrich Lessing

Dr. Jacov Gutmark


filmdesign advice:

Dipl. Des. Bodo Keller, UPSTART!


musical advice:

Daniel Kempin


Klaus Bertelsmann



Dipl. Des. Cornelius Breymann


typographic advice:

Prof. Dipl. Des. Christine Wagner



Barbara Petri

Dipl. Ing. Ellen Wagner

Dipl. Päd. Gesine Werner

Susanne Wilhelm

Dipl. Inform. Frank Fohler
Ludowika Mann

resource persons
Gabriele Glückselig, New York, Marthel und Erwin Hirsch, New York, Ruth Jakobus, Israel, Leo Keh, Wiesbaden, Paul Yogi Mayer, London, Annelies Mindus, New York, Rolf Rubinstein, Wiesbaden, Eva Gerstle Wertheimer, San Diego


We are grateful for cooperation

Without the financial, technical and logistical support of many institutions, archives, and companies the project would not have been possible with this high standard. We would like to thank everyone who has been helpful.


sponsors and patrons:
Stadt Wiesbaden, NASPA Kulturstiftung “Initiative und Leistung“, Architektenkammer Hessen, Fachhochschule Wiesbaden, INTERGRAPH, Discreet – a Division of Autodesk, Inc., DIAMOND Multimedia, IVT postproduction house GmbH, UPSTART! Animation & Visual Effects, Vistec Internet Service GmbH, Blue Label Designagentur, Polaroid, .ing.team., ALTUMAX, Papier Ludwig, O.K. Kopie, DSR Deutsche Städte-Reklame GmbH, ELSA AG, Papier Union, Gönner und Gassner Digitaldruck, TRITONstudio, ImageCom, Druckwerkstätten Koehler & Hennemann GmbH, ArcSoft, Peacock Computer