Berlin: The newish and the Jewish

We stayed in the Hotel Romy, opposite the Central Station. It’s part of the Amano Group, a Jewish-owned hotel chain, formed in 2009.

 THE JEWISH Museum in Berlin. (photo credit: Yves Sucksdorff)
THE JEWISH Museum in Berlin.
(photo credit: Yves Sucksdorff)

It wasn’t our first time in Berlin. One of us came after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the other in 2015. Both of us had barely scratched the surface of what the city has to offer.

Berlin is one of the few places in Europe with a growing Jewish population. A city reunited and rebuilt. A progressive city covering the wounds cast by 12 years of Nazi oppression followed by 45 years of division. Berlin, in 2022, gleams with blocks of modern glass architecture. However, scratch the surface and you’ll find stories aplenty hidden within its linden-tree-lined streets

The Jewish and Israeli Story

We stayed in the Hotel Romy, opposite the Central Station. It’s part of the Amano Group, a Jewish-owned hotel chain, formed in 2009. The hotel, a modern, stylish, noir, almost edgy building has those little touches that point to its ownership. A Mexican restaurant called Amigo Cohen is due to open in September 2022 and currently serves as the hotel’s breakfast room. You can have a morning taco to go with your shakshuka, amba and hummus. Next door is the Grand Central hotel, with its Habayit Shel Amano restaurant aimed at bringing the Tel Aviv Shuk Hacarmel feeling to Germany’s capital.

The Israeli influence on Berlin’s cuisine is front and center. Berliners have embraced it with gusto and Israeli style restaurants are in every neighborhood.

One of those restaurants is Kanaan, a vegetarian Israeli-Palestinian restaurant doubling up as beacon of hope, conveying its message of peace through the medium of malawach and baklawa ice cream. It’s staff proudly wear T-shirts with the logo Ich Bin Hummussexuell.

 THE HUMBOLDT Forum, opposite Museum Island, on the banks of the Spree, is built on the site of two of Berlin’s most important buildings. (credit: Yves Sucksdorff) THE HUMBOLDT Forum, opposite Museum Island, on the banks of the Spree, is built on the site of two of Berlin’s most important buildings. (credit: Yves Sucksdorff)

Owner Oz Ben David, an enthusiastic ex-marketeer from Ariel in Samaria tells of his chance meeting with Jalil Dabit from Ramle, while selling Jalil’s family tahina to a German supermarket. That relationship developed into the Kanaan Restaurant. Their food is a delicious fusion of Jalil’s family recipes blended with Oz’ Moroccan and Romanian roots.

Kanaan is not just about the food, it’s also about education and bringing people of different backgrounds together to carry on the message of making the impossible possible. Blending staff from conflicting backgrounds and making the place a haven is as important to Oz and Jalil as the food.

Prism, in the Charlottenburg suburb, is a Michelin-starred restaurant run by Israeli chef Gal Ben Moshe, who is currently revamping the famous Pastel restaurant in the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. The food is a delightful combination of Gal’s Israeli roots combined with modern European twists.

The signature menu can be adapted for a vegetarian diet and you will need to set aside plenty of time for plate after plate of creative gastronomy. Gal’s partner is sommelier Jacqueline Lorenz who will guide you through the Near-Eastern wine pairings from Lebanon, Cyprus, Israel and even a wine from Bethlehem called Grapes of Wrath.

The Jewish highlight of Berlin has to be the Jewish Museum Berlin. Next to the baroque college building, which once housed the Berlin Museum, is a typical Daniel Libeskind deconstructivism building – this time in the shape of a twisted zig-zag. The museum is all about past and present Jewish life in Berlin. Hetty Berg, the director, oversees a collection of exhibits that immerse the visitor, whilst the voids and spaces created by Libeskind remind visitors of the erasure of Jewish life during the Shoah.

And you don’t need to worry about entertainment and learning for the family. Across the street is ANOHA, the children’s world of the Jewish Museum. The fully-interactive space is centered around a gigantic Noah’s Ark and teaches children about Judaism against a background of sustainability.

The Newish Story

Carrying on the sustainable theme, Berlin has a wonderful public-transport system. For 39 Euros (NIS 133), you can pick up a 72-hour Berlin WelcomeCard, which will give you access to all of the buses, trains and trams, including to and from the airport. It also offers discounts to over 200 attractions, tours, boat trips and restaurants. Everything in Berlin is accessible within a 30-minutes journey.

The first-time must do list for Berlin includes the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag, Checkpoint Charlie, Museum Island, the Berlin Wall and finished off with shopping in Alexanderplatz. But Berlin has some great new attractions to tell the story of the transition from division to reunified Germany.

The Humboldt Forum opposite Museum Island, on the banks of the Spree, is built on the site of two of Berlin’s most important buildings, the baroque Berlin Palace, which was demolished in 1950 and replaced with the modernist Palace of the Republic – home to the Volkskammer, the East-German parliament. It also housed a bowling alley, casino, swimming pool and skating rink, signs to which can be found in the new building. Architect Franco Strella’s design for this center of art and culture blends a beautifully reconstructed palace with a modernist exterior, while the interior houses multiple exhibitions, museums and collections.

A few minutes’ walk away is the DDR museum, telling the story of East-German life. You can try out the Trabant driving simulator or pretend you are living back in the 70s in an East Berlin apartment, complete with East German TV and music. An alternative history of the end of the DDR era can be found at the Circus Hostel, which has a fan corner called the David Hasselhoff Museum, recounting the story of how Hasselhoff brought down the Wall. The story has never been verified but the eponymous star of the museum has visited it twice, so what better recommendation do you need.

The most prominent remaining icon of the DDR era is the Fernsehturm or TV Tower. It stands at 368 meters and can be seen all across Berlin. At the base you can experience ODYSSEY, a virtual reality journey through 900 years of the city’s history. Then you jump into the express lift and go up to the viewing gallery at 203 meters or the revolving restaurant at 207 meters.

One interesting fact gleaned from the DDR museum was that East Berliners found a way of expressing their freedom and equality with their fellow man and woman through nudity. East Germans saw it as an expression of classlessness. In 2022, you can continue this tradition and unwind at a textile-free spa such as the Vabali Spa. Just a 10-minute walk from Central Station, you find yourself in a 20,000 square meter oasis that has saunas, indoor and outdoor pools, a restaurant, a bar, fitness facilities and massage rooms. The story of modern Berlin is truly revealing.

The writers were guests of Visit Berlin and the German National Tourist Board. They host The Jerusalem Post Podcast – Travel Edition: jpost.com/podcast/travel-edition.