Cologne’s rich Jewish history dates back to its founding by the Romans. “Colonia” Jews are mentioned in edicts by Byzantine Emperor Constantine in 321 and 331. By the 11th century, there was a substantial Jewish community. Cologne has had many illustrious Jewish citizens, including composer Jacques Offenbach and Zionist philosopher Moses Hess.
The Cologne-based Salomon Oppenheim Bank is one of the few major businesses in Germany again under its pre-war Jewish ownership. The medieval Jewish quarter was situated in front of the Gothic city hall. The lane that runs in front of the building is the Judengasse (Jewish Lane). Next to City Hall the medieval main synagogue and others once stood. Museenkoeln is currently engaged in an archeological project that will include the opening of a Cologne Jewish Museum. Currently, all that remains of medieval Cologne Jewry is the mikveh reached by descending fifty feet down a Romanesque stairwell of hewn sandstone.
In the Rathaus, see the “Nine Good Heroes” of ancient history, including Elijah, King David and Judah Maccabee. Cologne’s modern opera house stands on the site of the 19th-century Glockengasse Synagogue destroyed on Kristallnacht. The center of today’s Jewish community is the Great Roonstrasse Synagogue, the city’s only synagogue to survive the Nazis. The building also houses the Jewish Community Center, a small exhibit on Cologne Jewry, a library, kosher restaurant, youth center and much more.
Cologne’s skyline is dominated by the Dom. On the left wall, past the transept, is the original stone-etched letter of protection of Cologne’s Jews issued by Archbishop Engelbert II in 1266. At the rear of the cathedral, the left side of the middle panel of three stained-glass windows depicts Elijah, Abraham and Isaac, Samuel, Salomon and Sheba.