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Cologne Debates Building Jewish Museum in City Center

Plans to build a Jewish museum in Cologne are being put to the test. While originally supporting the idea, the city's mayor is now not so certain any more that the winning design is the best one to build.

A drawing showing the museum design next to Cologne city hall on the right

Not everyone is happy with the design that includes a zig-zag roof

The city is home to the oldest Jewish community north of the Alps and still has significant remains of the old Jewish quarter, including the ruins of a mikwe, or ritual bath, just in front of Cologne's city hall.

People looking into the glass pyramid containing the Cologne mikwe in front of city hall

The mikwe in front of city hall can be seen through a glass pyramid

That's why this particular spot was also chosen as the location of a future museum. A design by Saarbruecken-based architectural firm Wandel Hoefer Lorch was overwhelmingly chosen by an expert jury.

It all happened so quickly that members of the private foundation planning to pay for the construction said that it hadn't collected any of the 20 million euros ($31.7 million) needed.

They might not have to hurry.

While Cologne's conservative Mayor Fritz Schramma had originally voiced enthusiastic support for the plan, he's since backed away from it.

Too massive?

Cologne Mayor Fritz Schramma

Schramma supports the museum idea in general

Schramma says that he's concerned that the new building would be too massive for the square in front of city hall. The mayor now wants to give residents a chance to review all of the designs that were entered in the competition and then vote on them.

While not accusing the mayor of anti-Semitism, Jewish leaders criticized Schramma for giving in to concerns by others, including a neighboring arts museum.

"There are rumors that the Wallraf Richartz Museum isn't happy with the design," Salomon Korn, a vice president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, who sat on the selection jury, told German public radio Deutschlandradio.

An authentic place

Salomon Korn, vice president of the Council of Jews in Germany

Korn thinks the square at city hall would be the best place

Korn, who is an architect himself, said that the winning design is far from massive and would actually return the space closer to its original state before buildings there were destroyed during World War II.

He also said that it made little sense to move the museum elsewhere, since the location in front of city hall was the historic site of Germany's Jewish community and could therefore become a "crystallization core for remembrance."

"There's only one authentic place" for the museum, Korn said.

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