Walk through most German cities today and you don’t have to look too hard to find commemorations of pre-Holocaust Jewish life – they’re in the sidewalks, on plaques, and in memorials here and there. And yet it can still be hard to imagine an observant Jewish community in Germany before the war – not to mention way before the war. One thing aiding our imaginations are the Jewish ritual baths that are being restored all around the country.
Some of these mikvaot are remnants of medieval synagogues — which can make their contemporary appearance that much more jarring. In Cologne, for instance, a hyper-modern glass pyramid protects the mikveh’s excavation site right in front of the City Hall.
Thanks to the literal depth of some of Germany’s old mikvaot– Cologne’s is nearly 50 feet underground, and is reachable only by descending 79 steps – they’ve survived remarkably unscathed. Peering into their depths is like looking through a portal to another world, and the experience is powerful — and surreal.