In Search of Jewish Berlin

In Search of Jewish Berlin

Jewish Berlin Image 1Although the Jewish experience in Berlin began in the 13th century, intolerance was so entrenched that it took hundreds of years, until 1714, before Berlin’s first synagogue was erected in Heidereutgasse. Your walk begins at the remaining foundations of the so-called Old Synagogue, where your guide, a Jewish Studies scholar, helps you to grasp the challenges faced by German Jews during the middle ages and renaissance and to appreciate the rich cultural life developed by Berlin’s Jewish community in spite of their vulnerable status.

Jewish Berlin Image 2Our major focus, however, will be the main sites of Berlin’s 19th- and 20th-century Jewish history, the districts of Spandauer Vorstadt and Scheunenviertel (known as the ‘Barn Quarter’) in Berlin-Mitte. Taking in the graceful avenue, Oranienburger Straße, where the magnificent New Synagoge was erected in 1866, you learn not only of the conflicts between German Jews and Non-Jews but of tensions between the mostly assimilated German Jewry and the so-called Eastern Jews (‘Ostjuden’) who filled Berlin in the 1920s after fleeing dramatic anti-Jewish violence in their homelands.

Many of these refugees were orthodox and poor. They brought a completely new infrastructure for Jewish religious and cultural life to Berlin with them. Examining visual material such as photographs from Jewish street vendors and old newspapers, we consider how Jewish life in Berlin became far more visible in the 1920s. For precisely this reason, the established German Jewish community often regarded the influx of Eastern Jews as potentially dangerous for their own status within German society. One response was their support for institutions of social welfare and education. We stop at an example of this philanthropy, the former Jewish orphanage in Auguststraße, which today is home to an exhibit hall and a coffee shop. (If the current exhibition is dealing with a topic related to our tour, a visit of the exhibition should be taken into consideration.). The Jewish Cemetery on Große Hamburger Straße also gives a vivid impression of Berlin’s Jewish presence.

Jewish Berlin Image 3Assimilated Jews in Berlin played leading roles in every field of German culture: journalism, education, science, literature, art, music, business. During the short, anxious Weimar era (1919-1933), the great painter Max Liebermann created his works and became head of the Berlin Secessionists. Kurt Weill redefined musical theater. Walter Benjamin penned the whimsical academic essays that inaugurated a philosophy of modernity. Despite the prominence of such figures, anti-Semitic violence of a new degree broke out as early as November 1923. In front of the former Labor Office in Gormannstraße, we talk about the so-called Scheunenviertel Pogrom. By 1933, the ‘Barn Quarter’ became one of the first settings of the Nazis’ political purges in the capital city. We discuss the series of sinister events that lead to full implementation of Hitler’s “Final Solution” in Berlin while visiting sites that recall the Holocaust, such as the Missing House graphic at Grosse Hamburger Strasse 15/16, which lists the names of former Jewish residents and the Abandoned Room at Koppenplatz, which memorializes the Jews taken on the November 1938 Kristallnacht, and some of the city’s 1,400 Stolpersteine (stumbling cobblestones), reminders of the Shoah’s victims.

Before leaving the ‘Barn Quarter,’ we visit the kosher coffee shop ‘Beth-Café’ to consider the renewal of Berlin’s Jewish life today. Our last stop is the New Synagoge, the architecture of which symbolized and celebrated Jewish assimilation in Germany. It is thus one of the most moving sites on our walk. Today it is home to the Jewish community reviving in Berlin, and moreover houses a gallery with changing exhibitions that you may wish to visit in conclusion.

Isabelle DanielIsabelle Daniel Isabelle Daniel received her M.A. from Heidelberg University in January 2012. She is currently a fellow in a research project on Anti-Semitism in Europe during World War I at the Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism at Technical University Berlin and holds a PhD fellowship from Heinrich Böll Foundation. Her PhD project is on anti-Semitic discourses in the Berlin based media during the Weimar Republic. Isabelle was a student of History and Political Science at Heidelberg University, Johns Hopkins University and Charles University Prague, and participated in a program for international students at Tel Aviv University. Focusing on Jewish History, International Relations and Resistance during her studies, she graduated with a Master’s thesis on the resistance of writers to the Communist systems of Czechoslovakia and the German Democratic Republic. Beside her studies, she was a tutor for Foreign Affairs in the Political Science Department of Heidelberg University and has worked as a freelance journalist with a focus on Jewish culture and Eastern Europe related topics. Isabelle was an editor at the Prague based weekly “Prager Zeitung” and the German news media n-tv.de. She continues writing as a contributing author for the Goethe Institute and several German and international media. She is passionate about the Jewish history of Berlin, human rights and a member of “Reporters without Borders”.
Saskia Deborah PawlowSaskia Deborah Pawlow Saskia Deborah Pawlow is about to take her bar exam in law. Currently, she works as a journalist, editor and translator, having also studied French, Italian, Arabic and Hebrew. Born some years before the Fall of the Wall, Sasloa raised in a turbulent period and she could experience how her ‘zitty’ has changed ever since. During her law studies at the Free University of Berlin she was awarded a scholarship to study law in the US. There, she lived in Miami, in Hartford, Connecticut, as well as in New York City where she got more and more intertwined with Jewish traditions and culture. After her return to Berlin she decided to take 2 years of advanced Jewish Studies in university and to combined it with several stays in Israel to get to know the language, the country, its people and history. Saskia has always been very interested in the Middle East conflict and its potential resolutions and she is volunteering for a NGO the provides forums for dialogue.
  • Reserve Your Walk

    For walks within 48 hours, please e-mail a request to: [email protected]
    or phone: (+420) 777 036 515

    For private walks please see the link below the calendar

 

To order a private tour for your groups of up to 10, click our link right below Reserve Private Walk

 

Groups of over 10 should contact us at [email protected] in order to get a special rate for their party.

Cancellation and Tipping


See all Berlin Walks

Insight Cities

Truly informed tours for travelers who like to learn