The story of the Altona mall, built on a Jewish cemetery

Mercado shopping mall - Plate with the names of the buried

Mercado shopping mall – Plate with the names of the buried

I love this picture, taken in the Mercado mall in Altona, Hamburg.
The three layers that you see here are: one floor with an “Arab belly-dance”.
One “floor” is a Jewish cemetery.
One floor is a shopping mall.

This picture is a great symbol, of the present, in Germany, diversity, people might call it.

So why is there a mall on top of an old Jewish cemetery?
It is complicated, here is the (short) story:

Hamburg was a home of thriving Jewish community before the Nazi era.
Many of the Jews of Hamburg moved over the years to its neighbor town Altona, that was more open and acceptable to Jews.
Altona is a town near Hamburg, From 1640 to 1864 Altona was under the administration of the Danish monarchy, then, as a part of Germany, and in 1937 became a part of Hamburg.
The Jewish cemetery of Ottensen, Altona, was opened in 1663 and was active until 1934.

Altona Jewish Cemetery- Salomon Goldschmidt, from “Der jüdische Friedhof in Ottensen” – Ulla Hinnenberg. Stadtteilarchiv Ottensen.

Soon after, Nazi authorities confiscated it and destroyed it.

At the end of ww2, the site, known as belonging to the Jewish community, was returned to the only two Jews who lived in Hamburg. Nobody knew or could tell that it was a cemetery. The Nazis dug two bunkers inside the cemetery, mixed the ground through, with, the bodies and gravestones. The two Jews sold the property to a real-estate company.


In 1988 the land was bought by a company that planned to build a mall on the ground.
When construction started, a group of left activists, began series of protests. The reason was that the area was poor, and they protested against a “temple of capitalism” that will raise the rent.

They did not succeed in their protest but after some research, they discovered that the land was once a Jewish cemetery. That came handy – The German authorities and people will not dare to deal with a Jewish cemetery.
They tipped an ultra-orthodox Jewish group from Jerusalem, and that was enough to ignite the fire they needed.

A group named “Athra Kadisha” came to Hamburg and started to demonstrate and protest. They stopped the work. Blocked the tractors. Blocked the streets of Altona near the construction site, made noise and spread guilt.

The city of Hamburg did not agree to buy the land from the private company. 50 million marks worth, was too much.
Hamburg’s Jewish community was pissed, they did not want these people here, the visitors from Jerusalem, talking on their behalf. Other solutions could be found.

Demonstrations in Altona, against the Mercado mall, to be built on top of an old Jewish cemetery.
Hamburger Abentblatt 2.5.1992

Eventually, with the intervention of the chief Rabbi of Israel, they acted by the main Jewish rule in this case – do not disturb the deads (who laid near a noisy train station). Do not move them.
The mall will be built on top of the cemetery.

Demonstrations in Altona, against the Mercado mall, to be built on top of an old Jewish cemetery

And this is how the big shopping mall of Altona, the Mercado is a bit high at some points, and this plate with the names of the buried Jewish residents of Altona in placed.

Mercado shopping mall – Plate with the names of the buried

Information "Der jüdische Friedhof in Ottensen" - Ulla Hinnenberg. Stadtteilarchiv Ottensen.

2 thoughts on “The story of the Altona mall, built on a Jewish cemetery

  1. Hallo,
    alles sachlich richtig dargestellt. Bis auf die Tatsache, dass es auf dem Gelände seit den 1950er Jahren ein Hertie-Kaufhaus gab, nachdem es geschlossen wurde, stand es jahrelang leer. Ob die antikapitalistische Linke die orthodoxen Juden in dem Streit wirklich instrumentalisiert hat?, ein Bündnis, das wohl sonst kaum zustande gekommen wäre. Es gab wohl eher eine zeitliche Übereinstimmung zwischen beiden Protestgruppen. Über die Investoren, darunter wohl ein jüdischer, gab es “Steckbriefe” am Spritzenplatz. Jahre später haben wir mit einer jüdischen Besucherin aus NY den Namen ihrer Großmutter auf der Gedenktafel im Mercado gefunden.
    Sie zeigen ein Foto vom alten Ottenser Friedhof. Das kenne ich nicht, woher stammt es? Können Sie mir die Quelle nennen?

    • Hallo Frau Louver,

      allow me to answer in English – it is faster (and less embarrassing) for me:

      As far as I understand it from the American media, after the left failed to take the capitalism ticket, they discovered the Jewish point, then they “tipped” the Orthodox. Indeed an interesting alliance.

      I did not know that one of the investor was Jewish. In fact – it doesn’t matter. This is so problematic, but having a Jew on board doesn’t make you kosher (;

      Thank’s for pointing out the lack of copyrights on the image. I’ve updated it. Most of the information is from one book from Stadtteilarchiv Ottensen where my grandmother’s interview was found.

      If you’d like, we can meet and talk about the subject. I have one or two stories from my family also about Altona.

      Thank you for your comment, again.

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