Unboxing Past

Rimini Protokoll accompanies the archaeologist Dr. Thorsten Sonnemann as he opens 105 archive boxes containing finds from the Börneplatz Synagogue and invites us to a joint discussion around our practice of memory.

02 September 2021 Helgard Haug / Rimini Protokoll

The project's point of departure is 105 archive boxes in the depot of the Archaeological Museum Frankfurt labelled "Synagogue". They contain stones, tiles, shards, utensils and everyday objects, as well as parts of the Torah shrine of the Börneplatz Synagogue in Frankfurt am Main, which was brutally destroyed during the November pogroms in 1938.

Unboxing Past is an artistic project by Helgard Haug / Rimini Protokoll and METAhub that accompanies the opening of archive boxes and the related work processes.

Unboxing Past is also a digital meeting space and archive.

(1) Countless boxes of finds are stored in the depot of the Archaeological Museum. Photos: Helgard Haug
(2) 513 of them are inscribed with the names of the sites and house names of the early modern Judengasse.


In 1987 and 1990, construction work and archaeological excavations uncovered the foundations of the Börneplatz synagogue, which had been brutally destroyed during the November pogroms of 1938.
Also discovered were remains of 18th-century buildings belonging to the former Judengasse, the oldest Jewish ghetto in Germany, with a history dating back to the 15th century.
The finds were to be documented and then removed to allow for the construction of a new building. However, a large part of the finds was not processed further until 2020 and stored in archive boxes in the depot of the Archaeological Museum Frankfurt.

(3) Model of the white office in which archaeologist Dr. Thorsten Sonnemann opens the boxes - set up in the depot of the Archaeological Museum Frankfurt
(4) Top view of the white office model


In mid-2020, archaeologist Thorsten Sonnemann began opening the archive boxes in a specially designed room and systematically recording the contents. He spent nearly a year opening the boxes and systematically measuring, indexing, photographing, viewing, analysing, and cataloguing stones, tiles, shards, utensils and everyday objects, as well as parts of the brutally destroyed Torah shrine. This work is made more difficult for him by the fact that the destruction of the synagogue was designed in such a way that no traces of what was should remain in the end.

His work contributes to making the contents of all 105 archive boxes digitally accessible. In this way, it is possible to observe for hours what otherwise only takes place in secret: Unboxing Past not only shows how the artifacts themselves come back to light. For the first time, it also shows in detail how the archaeologist handles the finds.

Unboxing Past

The project provides an opportunity for personal involvement with the topics of remembrance, memorialization and commemoration. On the one hand, this website documents the opening of the 105 archive boxes. On the other hand, it presents a broad panorama of cultures of remembrance through the participation of a total of over 300 people.

Unboxing Past asks: How should we deal with found objects in digital as well as analogue worlds? And much more fundamentally: How do we remember, how do we commemorate objects or stories that are important to us, and what sense of responsibility grows from dealing with testimonies of the times past?

Invitation to Actively Participate

Meet two other people you might never have met otherwise for a two-hour online conversation! In one of 105 small groups, reflect on what and how you remember and what that means for the Börneplatz Synagogue findings as you regard the contents of an archive box together. At the end of the conversation, you decide whether your conversation will be made available on the website.

If you are interested in being part of this, please sign up in our contact form:


with the archaeologist Dr. Thorsten Sonnemann

Concept, direction: Helgard Haug
Dramaturgy: Moritz von Rappard
Production Support: Hannah Baumann, Özlem Türkan
Film editing: Juan Pablo Bedoya
Interior design: Hagen Bonifer
Video equipment: Yannic Bill
Design and development digital space: Motion Bank at Hochschule Mainz (Prof. Florian Jenett, Isabela Di Marco, Jean Böhm)
Dramaturgs METAhub: Jeanne Charlotte Vogt & Marcus Droß