Ahlem Memorial A Place that Points Beyond the Passage of Time

Ahlem Memorial
Ahlem Memorial | Photo: Roland Halbe

In July 2014 the Ahlem Memorial was opened with a new design. It is a place with a special and eventful history. Originally, a horticulture school founded in 1893 for Jewish boys and girls in vocational training was located here. In the 1940’s the Geheime Staatspolizei (Gestapo) ran the deportation of Hannover’s Jewish population and established a police replacement prison here.

At the end of the 19th century, not far from the prosperous industries in the west of Hanover, Alexander Moritz Simon, a Hanover banker, established an educational institution that was unique nationwide at the time: the Israelitische Erziehungsanstalt zu Ahlem, renamed the Israelitische Gartenbauschule Ahlem in 1919. Organised into a primary school, apprenticeship training facility and a girls’ school for domestic management, children and adolescents here learned all the basics of the gardening, skilled crafts and agricultural occupations that until then had been closed to the Jewish population.

New perspectives

The Gartenbauschule in Ahlem opened up new perspectives for Jewish adolescents and young adults from all parts of Europe. Here they could train as gardeners, plant breeders, farmers, garden architects, landscape planners, teachers, skilled craftsmen and housekeepers. After Simon’s death, two additional agricultural training and boarding schools arose in Steinhorst und Peine, financed by the Alexander and Fanny Simon Foundation and built by architect Heinrich Tessenow.

Ahlem Memorial Ahlem Memorial | Photo: Roland Halbe The reports and testimonials of the former Ahlem residents whose lives took them to all corners of the globe – to Palestine with the kibbutz movement, to England or the USA and South America – are today a part of the exhibition in the memorial. They are made visible today in the form of biographical stations. In contrast, the further history of the Gartenbauschule leads far afield from the reform-oriented ideals of the early 20th century into the period of the National Socialist dictatorship. After 1933, the Gartenbauschule was tolerated only because it served preparations for emigration. It was finally closed in 1942.

The Gestapo had confiscated the entire school grounds starting in 1941 and set up a collection point for the deportation of the Jewish population even while the school was still running. Jewish forced labourers from so called mixed marriages were housed on the grounds. A police replacement prison was set up in 1944 for the Gestapo. Political prisoners, forced labourers from nearby camps of the Maschinenfabrik Niedersachsen Hannover and a subcamp of the concentration camp Neuengamme as well as Sinti and Roma were interrogated, tortured and murdered here. Liberation and release came for the few survivors by the 84th Division of the US Army on 10 April, 1945.

A powerfully expressive facility

Ahlem Memorial Ahlem Memorial | Photo: Roland Halbe Since 1987, the former Director’s House of the Israelitische Gartenbauschule has been a place of remembrance for the people who were compelled to experience Ahlem as a station on the way to their deaths. With an architectural and design competition announced in 2011, the Hanover Region opened up an opportunity to recast the memorial’s conception both spatially and in terms of content. The Hanover firm Ahrens Grabenhorst Architekten BDA was nominated for the 1st Prize together with landscape architects Chora blau and the firm Ikon Ausstellungen. Their joint project, completed in the summer of 2014, is a powerfully expressive facility that masterfully renews the character of the memorial with its monumentality of content and form with design tools that make this place of remembrance come alive. A pioneering step here was the increased integration of the memorial into external, urban-planning and landscape contexts, thereby lastingly engraving it in space and time.

A generous openness

Ahlem Memorial Ahlem Memorial | Photo: Roland Halbe The connection with the street and the neighbourhood is made by a powerfully minimalist new building of glass and concrete placed in front of the former Director’s House with the permanent exhibition. Its wide, projecting roof, seemingly easily borne by seven filigree, glass-encased supports, receives the visitor with a generous openness. Under the shelter of the wide exposed-concrete roof, one’s gaze wanders into the open-air grounds of the former school garden with its herb, fruit and flower beds, old trees, hedges of privet, mahonia and box. Both in the new construction and the second storey of the old building, ahrens & grabenhorst architekten repeatedly reference the outdoor area with floor-to-ceiling panorama windows.

Traces of the past

Ahlem Memorial Ahlem Memorial | Photo: Roland Halbe In the Director’s House, the interiors and fragile traces of the past are freed from their rigidity with sensitivity and precision. Today, the entire building is available for the new permanent exhibition. Media and learning spaces in the ground and top storeys as well as a lecture hall under the new building supplement the exhibition cabinets. With the overall architectural design, concepts such as Erinnern gegen das Vergessen (i.e. remembrance against forgetting) and Autonomie des historischen Raumes (i.e. autonomy of historic space) are redefined as gestures of reconciliation and communication, oriented towards life and the future. Today, Ahlem is once again a place that points beyond the passage of time.