The Great Synagogue in Plzeň is the second largest synagogue in Europe. A Viennese architect called Fleischer drew up the original plans for the synagogue in Gothic style with granite buttresses and twin 65-meter towers. The cornerstone was laid on December 2, 1888. City councillors rejected the plan in a clear case of tower envy as they felt that the grand erection would compete with the nearby Cathedral of St. Bartholomew. Emmanuel Klotz put forward a new design in 1890 retaining the original ground plan and hence the cornerstone, but lowering the towers by 20m and creating the distinctive look combining Romantic and neo-Renaissance styles covered with Oriental decorations and a giant Star of David. The design was quickly approved and master builder Rudolf Štech completed work in 1893 for the bargain price of 162,138 guilders.
At the time the Jewish community in Plzeň numbered some 2,000. The mixture of styles is truly bewildering; from the onion domes of a Russian orthodox church, to the Arabic style ceiling, to the distinctly Indian looking Aron kodesh. The synagogue was used without interruption until the Nazi occupation of World War II, and the Jewish community that retook possession of the synagogue at the end of hostilities had been decimated by the Holocaust. The synagogue was used as a storage facility during the war and was thereby spared from destruction. The last regular service was held in 1973, and then the synagogue was closed down and allowed to fall into disrepair under communist rule. Restoration was undertaken from 1995-1998, and the synagogue was reopened on February 11, 1998 at a cost of 63 million Kč. The central hall is now often used for concerts from such legends as Joseph Malowany, Peter Dvorský, or Karel Gott, while the walls play host to temporary photographic exhibitions of various causes. The synagogue is still used for worship, but only in what was formerly the winter prayer room. The present number of Pilsner Jews is a little over 70.References:
The Externsteine (Extern stones) is a distinctive sandstone rock formation located in the Teutoburg Forest, near the town of Horn-Bad Meinberg. The formation is a tor consisting of several tall, narrow columns of rock which rise abruptly from the surrounding wooded hills. Archaeological excavations have yielded some Upper Paleolithic stone tools dating to about 10,700 BC from 9,600 BC.
In a popular tradition going back to an idea proposed to Hermann Hamelmann in 1564, the Externsteine are identified as a sacred site of the pagan Saxons, and the location of the Irminsul (sacral pillar-like object in German paganism) idol reportedly destroyed by Charlemagne; there is however no archaeological evidence that would confirm the site's use during the relevant period.
The stones were used as the site of a hermitage in the Middle Ages, and by at least the high medieval period were the site of a Christian chapel. The Externsteine relief is a medieval depiction of the Descent from the Cross. It remains controversial whether the site was already used for Christian worship in the 8th to early 10th centuries.
The Externsteine gained prominence when Völkisch and nationalistic scholars took an interest in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This interest peaked under the Nazi regime, when the Externsteine became a focus of nazi propaganda. Today, they remain a popular tourist destination and also continue to attract Neo-Pagans and Neo-Nazis.