Situated on Oranienburger Straße, a street in central Berlin, the Neue Synagogue was constructed between 1859 and 1866 as the main place of worship, succeeding the Old Synagogue, to serve the continuously growing Jewish population in Berlin, in particular, immigrants from the East. The building, designed by Eduard Knoblauch and constructed in eastern Moorish style with its magnificent central dome and two side domes decorated with gold plated ribbed lattice, resembles the Alhambra (Ref - Alhambra Palace) in Granada, Spain.
Unfortunately, Eduard Knoblauch did not live long enough to complete his dream project and after his death in 1865, Friedrich August Stüler took the responsibility for the majority of its construction, along with its interior arrangement and decorative design. Finally, the Neue Synagogue was inaugurated in 1866, in the presence of Count Otto von Bismarck, the then Minister-President of Prussia.
The Neue Synagogue is one of the few synagogues that survived Kristallnacht or Crystal Night, which became infamous as the Night of the Broken Glass (Ref - Night Broken Glass). It was a violent riot organised by a wing of the Nazi Party, when the shards of broken glass littered the streets after the windows of Jewish stores, buildings and synagogues were smashed throughout the country on the 9th and 10th of November 1938. Although a Nazi mob broke into the synagogue, desecrated the Torah scrolls, smashed the furniture and was about to set fire to the piled up debris in the interior of the building, Lieutenant Otto Bellgaradt, an officer of the local police, arrived on the scene at the right moment to save the iconic structure. He ordered the arsonists to disperse, as the building was a protected historical landmark, even drew his service pistol and declared that he would not hesitate to use his arm to uphold the law requiring its protection. After that, he made way for the firefighters to enter and extinguish the fire before it could spread and devour the building.
However, the New Synagogue was heavily damaged during World War II, when it was almost burned and destroyed by a series of British air raids from 18 November 1943 until 25 March 1944. Subsequently, to solve the risk of collapsing, the authorities demolished the dilapidated main hall, located at the rear of the synagogue in 1958, leaving only the less-destroyed front section, as a memorial against war and fascism. The reconstruction of the damaged front section did not begin until the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, when the front section of the building was rebuilt in 1988-91 with the financial support of the Federal Government, while the magnificent dome was reconstructed later, in 1991.
However, the new construction was truncated before the point where the main hall of the synagogue began and the area behind the restored frontage, formerly the main prayer hall, remained untouched as an empty space.
With its ingenious spatial design and the sophisticated steel structure of its galleries and roof, the Neue Synagogue was an architectural wonder of its day. The newly built front of the building, facing Oranienburger Straße, is Polychrome brickwork, creating decorative patterns with bricks of different colours, highlighted by coloured glazed bricks. The central dome with its gilded ribs is flanked by two smaller pavilion-like domes on the two side wings. The façade leads to the front hall and the main hall with the capacity to accommodate 3,000 people. Equipped with an organ and a choir, it was used to house public concerts, which includes a violin concert by Albert Einstein in 1930.
Today, the newly built building of the Neue Synagogue, along with the Jewish Museum and the Holocaust memorial, is one of Berlin's most significant Jewish landmarks.
It also houses the Centrum Judaicum foundation, opened in 1995, an institution for the preservation of Jewish memory and tradition, and a community congregation centre for study and teaching.