Jewish Cemetery at Weissensee

About 1876 the Jewish community acquired for a new burial ground in Weissensee an area of more than 40 hectares including considerable reserve spaces. Hugo Licht, who as city architect of Leipzig from 1879 to 1906 did much to shape the face of that city, had the architectural elements of the new Jewish cemetery built of yellow brick in forms reminiscent of the Early Italian Renaissance with some Romanesque and Baroque details in red sandstone. Hugo Licht was also responsible for the division of the cemetery – consecrated on 9 September 1880 – into 120 burial sections/grave fields. The severe geometric layout is softened by variously shaped ornamental squares, from which main and secondary paths radiate and fan out, thus creating charming views. In 1910 a second stately hall of mourning had been built, the ruins of which following its wartime destruction were not removed until 1980. In 1926 no fewer than 200 staff were employed in looking after the extensive garden sections and 72,000 burial plots. The efficient horticultural department had five large greenhouses.

Opened in 1880, the Jewish Cemetery at Weissensee is not only the most extensive inner-city burial ground in Berlin today, but also the largest Jewish cemetery in Europe in terms of area. However, it owes its unique significance not only to this fact and its artistically remarkable collection of tombs, but above all to its close links to the fate of Berlin’s Jewish citizens. Buried in Weissensee Cemetery are men and women who made distinguished contributions to medicine, the natural sciences, the humanities, the plastic arts, literature, journalism, technology, industry, commerce, and municipal politics.

In the Weissensee Cemetery however, we also find the graves of those who, threatened with deportation to a Nazi extermination camp, took their own lives. Commemorative plaques remind us of Jewish concentration camp victims and a memorial stone of the members of the resistance group around the young Jewish communist Herbert Baum, who were executed in 1942/43.

In Weissensee, as in scarcely any other Berliner cemetery, one can follow the development of sepulchral art from 1880 to about 1939 on the basis of a wide range of specimens, some of them of exceptional quality. There are well known – and some very elaborate – tombs designed by the architects Erdmann & Spindler, Lachmann & Zauber, August Orth, Bruno Schmitz, Alfred Messel, Ludwig Hoffmann, Martin Dülfer and Walter Gropius, and the sculptors Otto Stichling and Hans Dammann.