The mosque, built in July 1915 and torn down in 1925 or 1926, was
designed to serve as a place of prayer for around 4,000 Muslim prisoners
of war captured on both the Eastern and western fronts during the First
World War, Dr. Reinhard Bernbeck, who led the excavation, told The
"But the mosque was not there for reasons of good treatment of the
soldiers," Bernbeck continued. "It was meant as a place to indoctrinate
them into jihad so that they would return to the front to fight against
their former colonial masters."
Imams were sent specially from Germany's allies in the Ottoman Empire
with the task of converting the prisoners to jihad, the professor said.
But the project appears to have been a failure.
"Many of the inmates were sent to fight with the Ottomans, but they
were so poorly treated that they ended up deserting," said Bernbeck.
An Orientalist vision
Pieces of metal found at the site: Photo: Freie Universität
Bernbeck said that though a small contingent of Muslim diplomats had
lived in Germany before the First World War, this mosque was Germany's
The building was never built to last. It was made of wood, but
nonetheless had a minaret measuring an impressive 23 metres high, as
well as a central dome.
During the excavation the team found wires and iron bolts used to hold
the dome up, as well as shards of glass from the mosque's windows.
Bernbeck points out the interesting nature of the architecture which
incorporated styles from the Ottoman empire as well as north Africa and
"This could have been Orientalism – simply its builders' idea about how
the Orient would have looked – or it could have been done
intentionally. That is difficult to say," said Bernbeck.
Life for the prisoners does not appear to have been particularly pleasant, despite the fact they were allowed to pray.
Bernbeck describes how studies were conducted on them which ran the
gamut from linguistic tests, to musical studies, to racial examinations
of their skull shape.
"They were treated as human curiosities," said the professor.
But the poor treatment did not go as far as torture.
"They were relatively well treated because they were supposed to fight for Germany," the professor explained.
After the war, some eastern Muslims even continued to live at the camp
for a few years, possibly because they could not return to a Russia
which had been thrown into turmoil by the communist revolution.