Founded in 1611, Hamburg's oldest graveyard ranks among the most important testimonials of Jewish living in the world. The site, housing the graves of many relatives of the families of Heine, Guggenheim, Mendelsohn and Warburg, has been closed in 1869, but while enduring war times relatively save, the 8000 grave stones now suffer from negligence and smog effects.
The cemetery's particularity is predicted of both the geographical dichotomy and its architectonical connection to Jewish graveyards in Amsterdam as well as Curacao (the Caribbean).
The area, contenting the former cemetery of the so called Aschkenases - German Jews - and the one of the Sefardes, which came from the Iberic Peninsula, documents outstandingly well the social relations of the two population groups. Hiring out as pawnbrokers and retail dealers, the Aschkenases' grave design reflects this difficult social estate, as it features their traditional orthodox plainness. On the other hand, the stones of the Sefardes posses a great ornamental richness and laborious emblems. The establishment of the two graveyards is not grounded on the freedom of worship, but on the city's hope for strengthening its trade relations: the Sefardes entertained a global network, trading with spices, tobacco and sugar.
Altona. Jewish Cemetery (Photo: Thomas Müller 2003)
Furthermore, the cemetery's graves are surprisingly similar to grave stones found in the Netherlands and the Caribbean. Thus, the widespread cultural and commercial relations of the Jewish traders become comprehensive and demonstrate the remarkable sophisticated living habits.
Applying for the registration in the UNESCO's world heritage list, the graveyard of Hamburg-Altona has recently been opened to the public.
Cf. Renata Klée Gobert, Die Bau- und Kunstdenkmale der Freien und Hansestadt Hamburg. Band II: Altona, Elbvororte, Hamburg 1970, p. 105 - 119.