Tracing Jewish Life in Berlin

The Jewish Quarter

Today we spent almost all day in the section of central Berlin where the Jewish population mainly lived. The day was wet and cold. It is so like Melbourne, a bit colder, but it is very hard to tell what the weather is going to be like from one day to the next.

Hackeschen Hofe

The area starts with a market adjacent to the station, called Hackescher Markt. It is active and chaotic, full of people from around the world. Many Turkish stalls with delicious looking food. We arrived there cold and wet so our eyes went to an Italian stall with containers of tiramisu. A cappuccino and a slice of tiramisu was exactly what we needed to warm us up and get us ready for the day. The proprietor was a very jolly German man who spoke good Italian so we had fun joking with him.

Moving on we entered the Hofe – a series of beautifully restored Art Deco courtyards built between 1905 – 7, now used for shops, cafes, galleries, residences, offices, and places of entertainment. They are numbered 1 to 8, and an audio guide is available to scan onto your smart phone as you pass through each Hof. These were a huge help. Hof I is decorated with blue mosaic tiles. It is home to Chamaleon Variete, which was at the forefront of the revival of the city’s interwar cabaret tradition. Here is Al’s 360 on this amazing courtyard.  A wander up the Art Deco staircase is a must. These courtyards were a common design in pre-war Berlin but these are the only ones left.

Here is the official video on the origins of Hackeschen Hofe and this first courtyard in particular.

These are places for wandering. The shops are mostly very high class, but you are free to wander in and take a look. We spent ages there.

Organ Recital


We took a break at 1pm to walk to an organ recital which we had seen advertised at Marienkirche. Along the way we stumbled across a busking Drummer who we had seen before.

We arrived to find quite a few waiting in the pews. Then the organist arrived and invited us to come with her up to the organ where she proceeded to present 50 minutes of no less than a master class. She described the 1722 Joachim Wagner organ, (built when he was 30), it’s history of restorations,, including the 2002 restoration and rebuilding by Daniel Kern, and in detail how it works. It still has most of the original pipes, with new ones distinguished by their different colour. The wind box on which the pipes rely was completely replaced in 2002. She illustrated as she went along, often with very beautiful music. We could not get over how athletic she was – if we had tried to do what she did with her feet and arms we would definitely have fallen off the bench!

She mentioned another concert this Saturday at 4.30 which we will definitely go to.

Back to the Jewish area

We made our way back to the Jewish area, by now 3pm, buying a huge hot chocolate on the way to have with our sandwich. We were pretty cold so the hot drink was important. (Balzac Café – important to note as it has a toilet!)  We walked then to the Neue Synagogue which was ‘new’ in 1866 and is now not a working synagogue but a museum following its bombing in 1943. It is very absorbing. Good coverage of all on show in English and some great illustrative material. Interestingly, the security clearance at the entrance was the strictest we have experienced at a museum. The synagogue was built in moorish style, apparently based on the Alhambra in Granada. It was ‘capped’ (opened) in 1866. A museum was opened next door, just 6 days before the Nazi takeover in 1933. Both buildings suffered, and the synagogue was finally gutted by bombs in 1943. The ruins were left untouched for a long time. Finally in 1988 work began on the the façade and gilded dome and the buildings were reopened in 1995 as a museum,cultural centre and Jewish Academie. The gilded dome is once again a Berlin landmark.

From there we wandered via Sophienstrasse to the Jewish cemetery. Along the way to the cemetery were brass ‘stones’ Among the cobblestones, remembering people who had died at the hands of the Nazis. The cemetery we visited is Berlin’s oldest Jewish cemetery, from 1672. Nearby is a Jewish old people’s home in which the Nazis held 55,000 Jewish people before being deported to camps. A sculptured group of haggard figures marks the spot where the home stood at the entrance to the cemetery. Only a few grave stones are left, one of which was for Moses Mendelssohn, a German philosopher and enlightment figure. The Gestapo smashed most of the stones and dug up the remains of those buried.


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