In conjunction with the work on his master’s thesis at the Technical University of Vienna, René Mathe created a virtual reconstruction of the Linz Synagogue. His aim was to enable people today to experience that center of Jewish religious life. Now, his work has made it possible for the Ars Electronica Futurelab to produce a 3-D visualization that lets visitors to Deep Space 8K take a virtual tour of the Linz Synagogue. The reconstruction is supplemented by high-definition photographs of ceremonial objects—the curtain covering the ark in which Torah scrolls are kept, a pointer used when reading the parchment scroll, and a decorative plaque that adorns it in the ark—as well as a Jewish marriage certificate. All are from the collection of the Jewish Museum of Vienna and were photographed by famed artist Lois Lammerhuber.
The virtual tour will premiere on November 15, 2016 at 7 PM at a special Deep Space LIVE event with Danielle Spera, director of the Jewish Museum of Vienna, and Herbert Peter and Bob Martens, both architects and specialists in virtual reconstruction.
We recently chatted with René Mathe about his master’s thesis.
Why did you decide to do a virtual reconstruction of the Linz Synagogue for your master’s thesis?
René Mathe: Back in 1995 in Darmstadt, Germany, there had already been a project designed to virtually reconstruct destroyed synagogues. In 1998, this idea was taken up in Vienna, and I was fascinated by the thought of doing my part to contribute to this collection. Although the Jewish Community of Linz was never particularly large, they were able to build an architecturally and culturally impressive synagogue. This is why I’m especially delighted that my reconstruction makes it possible to at least partially resurrect this building.
Access from the west
How difficult was it to find material for the reconstruction? And where did you find it?
René Mathe: The Nazi regime made a concerted effort to permanently expunge from history the Jewish Community’s entire cultural heritage, so it was very difficult to find drawings of the former synagogue that I could use for this project. The most important basic material—renovation blueprints and photographs—were provided by the archives of the City of Linz, the Diocese and the Jewish Community of Vienna (IKG). But for the reconstruction, I also used text descriptions and Kristallnacht eyewitness accounts in the archives of Jewish Museum of Vienna and the IKG. Another source of information was the War Archive, where I found old aerial photographs that give insights into the urban architectural context in those days and the integration of Jewish culture into the Linz cityscape.
On the basis of your master’s thesis, the Ars Electronica Futurelab produced a 3-D visualization that lets visitors to Deep Space 8K take a virtual walking tour through the Linz Synagogue.
René Mathe: With most master’s theses, it’s all too often the case that no one besides the author and the advisor ever even gets a look at the finished work. So, as you can imagine, I’m delighted that my project hasn’t been condemned to gathering dust in some electronic archive and is instead being screened in such a famous museum! Deep Space 8K is now making this project just that much more real and giving the general public a chance to behold it. This will definitely make a fascinating impression when people see the methods that are now being used to bring to life cultural treasures that were thought to have been irretrievably lost!
What can visitors look forward to during the one-hour Deep Space LIVE Special spotlighting the virtual reconstruction of the Linz Synagogue?
René Mathe: The destruction of the old Linz Synagogue took place almost 80 years ago. And even if the new synagogue, despite its modest size, is one of the most significant postwar synagogues in Austria, it will nevertheless be a very special experience to take a trip back in history to the old synagogue. The visualization in Deep Space will allow visitors to enter the sanctuary of the old temple and soak up the atmosphere in this extraordinary setting. One can only hope that this project will be followed by many more, and that it engenders sustainable interest in our historical heritage.
Bima in the new synagogue in Linz. In the area of today’s synagogue the ruins of the prayer house, destroyed in 1938, were there until 1967. (Credit: Florian Voggeneder)