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.

Lee Evans left his Eastern Washington home in the fall of 1986 on a Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange Scholarship. After his year in a quiet West German suburb of Osnabrück, he enrolled in University, but quickly left again to study Art History in Florence, Italy. During the fateful year of 1989, Lee was in Berlin when the Wall fell and saw the collapse of Communism first hand; demonstrating on Wenceslas Square during Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution. Lee has a Master’s Degree in Central European History and also studied Czech history and Literature at Charles University in Prague. At some point he managed also to spend significant time living on the island of Maui and in Munich. He is a well respected tour guide, working with Rick Steve’s Europe Through the Back Door. He has worked extensively on Rick Steve's Germany and is currently in charge of roughly half of the Fodor’s Germany guidebooks. Lee is the Programme Coordinator and Board Member of the Berlin Historical Association. Lee led the English language services of the German Railroad, is an expert in almost every aspect of European travel, and has helped thousands of travelers get the most out of their European experience.
f4Fabiola Bierhoff is an art historian and PhD Candidate in the History and Cultural Studies program at the Free University of Berlin. She received her Bachelor in Art History at Radboud University Nijmegen in 2006 and holds a Masters in Museum Curatorship summa cum laude from the Free University of Amsterdam. Her Master Thesis on the alternative East German art scene was awarded the Annual Master Thesis Award 2010. Since 2009 she has been an art writer for the bimonthly magazine De Witte Raaf. Fabiola is currently conducting research for her dissertation, which is provisionally entitled “The Role of Autonomous Art Criticism for Performance Art in the Last Decade of the German Democratic Republic”. Her research is funded by a scholarship from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and a research grant from the Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds.
DanHeadshotDan Borden grew up in Houston, Texas where he earned an architecture degree at Rice University. After getting his Masters degree from Columbia University, he worked as an architect in New York City for 15 years. His love affair with Berlin began when he visited as a student in summer 1987. After several more visits to the city, he settled in Berlin in 2006 where he works as a teacher, writer and filmmaker. He has contributed to books on the history of architecture and film. His monthly "Save Berlin" column in Exberliner magazine explores the city's architectural history and future.
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”.
Forrest Holmes was born in New Mexico but has lived, studied and worked in Europe for thirteen years, currently as a doctoral student at Freie Universität Berlin with an MA in German History from the University of Cardiff.  Since visiting Berlin for the first time on a research trip, he married a native and settled down in the German capital. Over the years, Forrest has become passionate about Berlin's abundant culture and delved into the museums, concert halls, art galleries, theaters, bars, bookstores, cabarets, cinemas, and cafes, savoring the international color and the diversity the city boasts. Berlin is also for him a city of history: rich, complex, dark, looming, echoing with creativity and inspiration, and issuing a clear and dire warning for the ages. Besides sharing research with those on his tours from books and archives and memorials, Forrest brings in the stories of Berliners themselves, many of them his in-laws and friends. Slowly he is coming to feel that he is a part of this city’s story too, as Berlin continues to transformed profoundly around him even over his short decade there  Forrest offer tours in both English and German and guides primarily in the Berlin area (including Potsdam and the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp Memorial), especially focusing on the Nazi regime and the Second World War (1933-1945), Berlin’s Jewish history, the Cold War and the years of division (1949-1990), art, architecture, or aspects of Berlin today.
Jean UlrickJean-Ulrick Désert is a conceptual and visual-artist. He received his degrees at Cooper Union and Columbia University (New York) and has lectured or been a critic at Princeton, Yale, Columbia, Humboldt University and l’école supérieur des beaux arts. Désert's artworks vary in forms such as billboards, actions, paintings, site-specific sculptures, video and objects and emerge from a tradition of conceptual-work engaged with social/cultural practices. He has exhibited widely at such venues as The Brooklyn Museum, Cité Internationale des Arts, The NGBK in galleries and public venues in Munich, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Ghent, Brussels. He is the recipient of awards, public commissions, private philanthropy, including Lower Manhattan Cultural Council (USA), Villa Waldberta/Muenchen - Kulturreferat , Kulturstiftung der Länder (Germany) and Cité des Arts (France). Désert established his Berlin studio in 2002.
f3Peter Bijl, born-Dutchman, originally a journalist, has been the initiator/driving force behind different cultural festivals, websites, platforms and exchange projects. After moving back to Berlin in 2008, the city that had gotten under his skin profoundly, he's been doing this internationally. In Utrecht he put up the 9-day Berlin festival Mitte Bitte!, in Berlin he initiated a similar 12-day program of Dutch/Flemish culture: Flachlandfest. Both festivals took place in 2008 and were initiated, developed, financed and produced in only a few months time. As a curator / artistic director, Peter’s highlight was the city-wide manifestation 'No Man’s Land'. A multidisciplinary weekend in November 2009 at 40+ locations in Utrecht, celebrating and commenting the 20th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall: a festival as a work of art, using space, creativity and personal stories in different disciplines to tell Berlin’s incredible story. In ‘No Man’s Land’ Peter let Berlin’s heavy history interact with its light and creative present, via the red thread of personal stories. After realizing these festivals, Peter moved on to connecting cultures and stories in a different way: by joining musician Tjerk Ridder in his Caravan Hitchhiking Project. Hitchhiking with a caravan, without(!) a car: the duo traveled Europe, from Utrecht to Istanbul, showing that 'You need others to keep you going'. Their art project had a large international appeal, with national tv reports in 8 European countries. Out of their journey, Peter and Tjerk created and published a book/DVD, which has been published in Dutch, English and German. A new book, a playful photo project on football culture, is on the way.
f2Jeroen van Marle is a geographer and travel writer from the Netherlands, who has lived in Berlin for 5 years. He has lived in 8 countries across the world, writing about dozens of destinations. He's the editor of a Berlin city guide that's published several times per year. A resident of Kreuzberg since 2011, he is fascinated by the varied history of this young district.
f1Madelief ter Braak is architectural historian and freelance writer/journalist. In 2011 she graduated cum laude with a Research Master Art History & Archaeology from the University of Groningen (the Netherlands). Fascinated by urban public space, she focuses on the use and representation of this everchanging aspect of the city in the past, present and future. In her research and writing she’s guided by unconventional sources in art, photography, literature, poetry, films and music. Cross-cultural interests and curiosity have led to several publications in very diverse (online) magazines. For Blauwe Kamer magazine on landscape development and urbanism, she writes the column ‘Standplaats Berlijn’. On her research she’s given lectures at the School of Architecture Groningen, the TU Delft and the Art historian Institute from the University of Groningen. Her masterthesis Flanieren in Berlin is written as a journey across east and west, in times of dictatorship and democracy.
Laureline van den Heuvel is an art historian and writer. She has a teachers degree in art (BA) and studied art history (MA) at the Free University in Amsterdam. Between 2007-2009 she worked as an independent art professional, doing research and writing texts for galleries and art fairs like Art Amsterdam. She is a published writer since 2005 for several on- and offline art magazines, like Metropolis M and 8weekly in the Netherlands and Freistutz Magazine in Berlin. At the Amsterdam Academy for the Arts she taught Contemporary Art, Art and Culture and Art Criticism courses. After visiting Berlin for the first time in 2000, she got hooked and after many more visits, finally decided to make the move in march 2014. At the moment, she works as a guide in the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum for Contemporary Art, the Jewish Museum and the Berlin Biennale. She also gives tours through Berlin’s lively gallery scene. The Berlin art scene makes her heart beat faster. Looking for galleries here feels like an Indiana Jones adventure, where an art treasure can be just around the corner. You can read all about the treasure hunt in her blog Gallery Quest and come find out for yourself on a tour.
Joep de Visser recently completely an MA in German History at the University of Amsterdam. Due to his fairly extensive weblog about memorials and historical locations in Berlin, Joep is very up-to-date about the past of his new Heimat. In the upcoming year, Joep plans to write a historical novel that fleshes out the shocking changes that transformed Berlin's daily life during the first half of the 20th century. In his side-project--History of Hipsters--, he explores the phenomenon of today's alternative youth culture.

 

 

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