Spending a day in Berlin, visiting Jewish sites, will unsurprisingly focus
heavily on the events of World War II. Although most already know what happened
in the German capital, it’s the way such events are displayed that provides a
truly different look at one of the darkest periods in Jewish history. And with a
growing Jewish population, kosher dining options, and a vibrant nightlife,
prepare for a full-on day of sightseeing.
The Jewish presence in Germany
dates as far back as the 13th century, and despite times of hardship, the
community was thriving right up until the rise of the Weimar Republic in the
Of course, the rise of Hitler and the onset of the Holocaust devastated Berlin’s
Jewish population, and by June 16, 1943, the Nazis declared Berlin Judenrein,
“Clean of Jews.” Yet, despite such events, the Jewish population of Berlin today
is once again on the rise and is currently estimated at more than
To begin a day of sightseeing, head to the neo-Byzantine style
Neue Synagogue, which is unmissable with a big dome on the roof. The synagogue
was consecrated on Rosh Hashana in 1866 and the sheer size and scale of the
synagogue reflected Berlin’s position as the center of liberal Judaism. The
building suffered from heavy fires and bombings and the majority of the
synagogue has never been rebuilt.
The synagogue now functions as a
museum, and is full of exhibits you might expect such as Torah, scrolls,
original architecture, and just one remaining prayer room. To get there, take
the S-Bahn or U-Bahn to Oranienburger Tor or Str 28-30.
Next continue to The Große Hamburger Straße in Berlin’s trendy Mitte district.
Here lies Berlin’s oldest Jewish cemetery, dating back to 1672. The cemetery was
used as a holding place for Jews before their deportation to concentration
camps, and was completely destroyed by the Nazis during World War
Today, the site is more of a park. A number of other Jewish
institutions were present here that were destroyed during the Nazi period.
Several memorial plaques and monuments line the street, testifying to the once
vibrant Jewish community that inhabited it.
Heading back into the center,
one of the main Jewish memorials in Berlin is located south of the Brandenburg
gate, one of the most well-known landmarks in Berlin. The Holocaust Memorial was
designed by US architect Peter Eisenman, and erected in 2005. The memorial
occupies 205,000 square feet of space, and is made up of 2,711 grey stone slabs
that have no apparent markings. Each slab is unique in shape and size and
visitors can easily access the site.
The architects’ aim was for the memorial to blend into the city; to be used for
shortcuts on the way home from work or a place of peace and quiet on a chaotic
day, and that’s exactly what has happened. Yet, I couldn’t help finding the
memorial uninspiring and unmoving. I thought if the slabs had markings or some
kind of indicators as to the origin of their existence the whole experience
would have a much more personal connection for the visitor.
spending the morning delving into Berlin’s not so distant past there are a
couple of options for a kosher lunch, such as the Beth Cafe, on Tucholskystr.
40, 10117. They serve Eastern European, Middle Eastern and American food as well
as kosher wines and beers. The average cost is 15 euros per person. There’s also
Café Bleibergs, on Nürnberger Straße 45A. They serve general café and vegetarian
food, with the option to take-away. The average cost is between 5 to 10 euros
A further place of interest is Bebelplatz, named for August
Bebel, a leader of the Social Democratic Party of Germany in the 19th century.
The site is a public square in the central Mitte district of Berlin, which
houses the State Opera House, St. Hedwig’s Cathedral and the Old Library.
Unfortunately, the Bebelplatz is sometimes best known for the events of May 10,
1933. On that date, the Nazi minister for propaganda and public enlightenment,
Joseph Goebbels, organised a nationwide book burning, with more than 20,000
books being burned in the middle of the Bebelplatz. Today, visitors can look
through a glass plate in the ground and view rows of empty bookshelves.
For one of the most emotional and morally challenging memorials to the Jewish
victims of the Holocaust, look no further than the Bavarian Quarter, Bayerische
Platz. The artists Renata Stih and the art historian Frieder Schnock created the
memorial, “Places of Remembrance,” here in 1993.
This highly praised
memorial consists of 80 street signs scattered all over the Quarter. The street
signs are attached to lampposts with one side of each sign showing a picture of
such items as a loaf of bread and the other a piece of anti-Jewish
This decentralised memorial is in a very residential area
and there are few tourists. The memorial has the feeling of being a more
personal remembrance by the neighbourhood, and when I visited I found myself
asking: What did the residents think when such laws were passed? Did they
comply? Did they protest? Then, walking around, you see how such tiny acts of
systematic discrimination by the Nazis could lead to the horrors of the gas
After spending the day trying to absorb all that Berlin has to offer there is
the option to taste some traditional Jewish cuisine and specialties from the
sea, at the upmarket “Kosher Classroom” on Auguststrasse 11-13. This recently
opened, sleek restaurant provides a cultured setting for an evening meal, with a
four-course menu costing 75 euros per person. But should you be in town for
Shabbat, or looking for an overnight stay, then The Crowne Plaza Berlin City
Centre is the only hotel for Jewish religious observant travellers. They offer a
pre-packed kosher lunch or dinner. And room prices vary with the average being
120 euro per night.
For the evening you could take a walk down to
Oreanienburger Straße. This central street used to be the center of Jewish life
in the city. Today, the area is known for having a more quirky and alternative
scene. Don’t worry if this doesn’t grab you because there will most certainly be
a place to pop in to nearby, for this is Berlin and the choice is plentiful.The Jewish Virtual Library contributed to this report.Follow Tanya on Twitter - @TPowellJones Or email firstname.lastname@example.org