Berlin insiders' guide: Jewish Berlin


The following is part of a series of visitor guides to Berlin. See also:
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The long history of the Jews is almost unthinkable without the city of Berlin, where one of the biggest Jewish communities in Europe thrived for centuries before the rise of the Nazis. Moses Mendelssohn, the great-grandfather of progressive Judaism, worked and is buried there. The comparatively brief history of film also would be inconceivable without German Jews like Paul Davidson, who invented the modern movie theater chain in Frankfurt in 1906 and then moved his company to Berlin three years later, or Berlin-born Jewish comedian Ernst Lubitsch, who starred in and directed a string of hits in the following decade -- thereby popularizing the new medium with the middle class. Today, Berlin is home to one of the fastest-growing Jewish communities on the planet as well as some of world Jewry's most prominent memorials and museums. On the itinerary of most non-Jewish, nonfilm universe Berlin visitors, they also make a welcome change from festival accreditation-wielding crowds for Berlinale regulars.

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The Holocaust Memorial (website)
Address: Bordered by Ebert Strasse, Behren Strasse, Cora-Berliner Strasse and Hannah-Arendt-Strasse
The first and easiest stop for festival visitors is the Holocaust Memorial, just a 15-minute walk from Potsdamer Platz or three minutes in a taxi. With its waving field of gray concrete slabs, it is at once abstract and inviting, arousing more curiosity than horror. The museum beneath gives individual histories of Berlin families destroyed in the Holocaust and appeals to the senses as well as the mind with piped-in soundscapes and touch-and-feel exhibits.

Jewish Museum
Address: Linden Strasse 9/14
Tel: 03025993300
Next comes the Jewish Museum, documenting almost two millennia of Jewish presence in what long ago were the German territories of the Roman Empire. Created by world-famous architect Daniel Libeskind -- who would go on to get the nod for the new World Trade Center in New York -- the building itself "makes you physically feel something when you walk through it," says Miriam Daur of Milk & Honey Tours, a Berlin-based company that focuses on European cities rich in Jewish history. "It was designed to disorient you, to give you an idea of what it might have felt like to go through the Holocaust. That's impossible of course, but it's a fascinating attempt."

Neue Synagogue
Address: Oranienburger Strasse 30
The Neue Synagogue was completed in 1866 and immediately became world famous for its double golden cupolas and Alhambra-style architecture. Today, it houses a museum about Jewish life in Berlin. A true symbol of 19th century German Jewish pride.

Rykestrasse Synagogue

Address: Ryke Strasse 53
The Rykestrasse Synagogue was destroyed by the Nazis and only finally restored last year. It has become an instant tourist attraction. The main sanctuary's lovingly rebuilt interior -- based on the evidence of a few photographs from before the war -- is open to the public on Thursdays from 2-6 p.m.


Cafe Oberwasser
Address: Zionkirch Strasse 6
Klezmer music returned with a vengeance to Berlin after the fall of the wall. There is now a thriving underground scene, and Klezmer is spreading beyond Berlin to become a Pan-
German phenomeon. For a taste of the Berlin scene, try out Cafe Oberwasser, which hosts Klezmer sessions on the 15th of every month.