Germany: Jewish Attractions

Holocaust Memorial Berlin

Berlin, © picture-alliance


From the Jewish Museum in Berlin to Europe's oldest Jewish cemetery in Worms, take a look at Germany's historic Jewish attractions.

Berlin: Jewish Museum

The Jewish Museum Berlin is the largest of its kind in Europe, attracting about 700,000 visitors per year since opening its doors in 2001. It displays 2,000 years of Jewish culture and Jewish-German history and offers various special exhibitions ranging from contemporary artists' perspectives on modern Germany to depicting the lives of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe in the 1920's.

The museum includes several buildings, two of which are open to visitors: the baroque-style “Kollegienhaus”, built in 1735, and the post-modern new building designed by architect Daniel Libeskind in 1989, which houses the main exhibition. Its zigzag shape symbolizes breaks and voids as well as hope and continuity in German-Jewish history.

The Jewish Museum Berlin is organized in the legal form of a public trust. Its budget is allocated by the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media and through public donations. Each year, the Jewish Museum awards the Prize for Understanding and Tolerance to individuals who have promoted these traits in an exceptional way.

Berlin: New Synagogue

The New Synagogue was erected in 1866, symbolizing the growing size and self-confidence of the Jewish community at the time. The New Synagogue quickly became the most famous Jewish house of worship throughout Germany - especially for its significant Neo-Moorish architecture crowned by a parly gilded dome.

During the November Pogrom (November 9, 1938), the New Synagogue was set ablaze. Wilhelm Krützfeld, a Prussian police officer, stopped the arsonists and alerted the fire department, citing the building's status as an officially protected monument. It was therefore saved from complete destruction and renovated for service by the Jewish community. In November 1943, the New Synagogue was heavily damaged by allied air attacks.

Since 1995, the reconstructed front parts of the building house Centrum Judaicum, a Jewish museum and center for culture and documentation with regular public events and changing exhibitions. Centrum Judaicum is a project partner of Germany Close Up, an organization which invites American Jews to experience today's Germany.

Berlin: Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, located in the center of Berlin, is the official German Holocaust Memorial memorializing the estimated six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Located in the city center between the Brandenburg Gate and Potsdamer Platz, the memorial consists of 2,711 stelae designed by Peter Eisenman.

The exhibition at the underground Information Center documents the persecution and extermination of European Jewry as well as the sites of the atrocities. The names of all known Jewish victims of the Holocaust, obtained from the Israeli museum Yad Vashem, can be read in the exhibition’s rooms. Each year, nearly half a million visitors come to the information center.

In 2008, the stelae field was the site for the premiere of Vor dem Verstummen (“Before the Silencing”), a concert by the German composer Harald Weiss. Twenty-four wind instruments and strings were scattered in the field, allowing each of the 3,200 listeners to experience an individual concert of differing accentuation and sound intensity – a metaphor on (re)individualizing Holocaust victims.

Berlin: Max Liebermann Villa

The Liebermann Villa is the former summer residence of the impressionist painter Max Liebermann (1847–1935). It is situated at Lake Wannsee and has served as a museum since 2006.

Liebermann was a leading figure in the avant-garde artist group of Berlin Secession promoting impressionism in Wilhelmine Germany. From 1920 through 1932 he was president of the Prussian Academy of Arts. In 1907, he purchased a piece of land at Lake Wannsee. The villa with the adjacent garden area – which Liebermann often referred to as his “Castle at the Lake” – became the site of an immensely productive period in his artistic career.

Under National Socialist dictatorship and after Liebermann’s death, most of his paintings were sold for less than they were worth. The main exhibition of today’s museum displays a part of his oeuvre in the former atelier rooms. The whole arrangement recreates the atmosphere of rest and inspiration under which Liebermann worked at Lake Wannsee.

Braunschweig: Jewish Museum

Dating back to 1746, when Braunschweig court Jew Alexander David started an exhibition of Jewish ritual artifacts in his own private residence, the Jewish Museum in Braunschweig (Lower Saxony) can look upon a history of more than 260 years, making it the oldest Jewish museum in the world.

Today the museum includes the complete original interior of the Hornburg synagogue, which miraculously survived the Third Reich. Furthermore you can find a vast collection of Jewish artifacts and handicrafts, which were collected by Karl Steinacker, who was the first director of the modern museum from 1910 to 1935.

The exhibitions include the Judaica, a collection of sacral artifacts that were collected by Alexander David. You can also find works by famous artist Ephraim Moses Lilien, who lived his final years in Braunschweig

The audio tours that guide you through the museum were designed and programmed by students of a local high school. You can download them from the internet using your smartphone, making a walk through the museum as easy as finding the nearest drug store in your neighborhood.

Cologne: Judenprivileg of the Cologne Cathedral

The Cologne Cathedral is one of the biggest and most beautiful houses of prayer in the world. Within its walls, right next to the choir one can find the so-called Judenprivileg (“Jews privilege”), a stone plate in which the arch bishop of Cologne engraved the rights of the Jewish population. Even though many statesman and clergyman granted the Jews certain rights, it was in Cologne where these rights were made public in written form within the church building, showing the whole population the unalienable rights the Jews enjoyed. These included the right to freely bury their dead and to own the monopoly on lending money against the payment of interest.

As taxes from the Jews were one of the most important sources of income for the clergy, the protection of most Jewish citizens was of vital interest for them. But of course the Judenprivileg was not only a means of insuring the safety of Cologne’s Jewish citizens, it was also used as a method to control and to discriminate them.

Jews were not allowed to settle next to Christians, but had to live in predestined quarters which were shut off from the rest of the city. And even the protection of the clerical government did not always ensure the safety of the Jews. During the outbreak of the black death in the 14th century, many Christians blamed the Jews for the illness, resulting in pogroms throughout Europe, including Cologne.

Dessau: Moses Mendelssohn Center

The Moses Mendelssohn Center is dedicated to one of the most famous German Jews of the 18th century: born in 1729 in Dessau, Moses Mendelssohn followed his teacher, Rabbi Fränkel, to Berlin in 1743. In the following years, Mendelssohn associated with and befriended many prominent scholars such as Gotthold Ephraim Lessing.

Having enjoyed a comprehensive education, Mendelssohn took to writing about society. He focused on freedom of religion and the emancipation of Jews in Germany in his work which was well received by both Jews and Christians. Today, Mendelssohn is thought to be one of the most influential thinkers of the Jewish Enlightenment as well as of the Age of Enlightenment in general.

An exhibition at the center traces the life and works of this exceptional philosophical thinker. The center is located in the town of Dessau-Roßlau in Saxony-Anhalt between Leipzig and Magdeburg.

Frankfurt: Westend Synagogue

Frankfurt is home to one of today’s largest Jewish communities in Germany – and to one of the most formidable synagogues that survived the November Pogrom and WW II.

Built in 1908 to 1910, the Westend Synagogue is an impressive piece of architecture inspired by Egyptian and Assyrian constructions. The architect of the Westend Synagogue, Franz Roeckle, is an ambiguous figure. On the one hand, his work on the Westend Synagogue is widely praised, and he was in charge for the construction of several other Jewish buildings such as a synagogue in Offenbach and the Israelite Hospital in Frankfurt. On the other, he would later join the Nazi Party NSDAP and contribute to the kidnapping of a Jewish couple in Vaduz, Liechtenstein, where he was originally from.

The main sanctuary of the Westend Synagogue, predominantly blue and gold with an especially ornate Eastern nave, accommodates about 1000 people. It is used by an orthodox community, but there is another sanctuary for a liberal congregation as well as a prayer room used for classes of Chabad Talmud students.

Munich: Bernheimer Haus

The Bernheimer Haus or Bernheimer Palais counts as one of the most historic buildings of Munich’s old town, as it is considered the earliest example of Baroque revival architecture in the Bavarian city. Apart from its architectural significance, the building enjoys monument protection but also symbolizes the importance of Jewish entrepreneurship in Germany’s past.

Finished in 1889, the building was commissioned by Lehman Bernheimer, a Jewish textile, art and furniture dealer whose customers included most of the European aristocracy, among them the Bavarian King Ludwig II. Renowned architect Friedrich von Thiersch designed the majestic building, which burned down almost entirely in 1897. After rebuilding efforts and additions to the complex, the Bernheimer Haus was partially destroyed and Aryanized by the Nazis in 1938 and 1939. Forced out of their business, the Bernheimer family was arrested and eventually fled the country. The dealer’s son, Otto Bernheimer returned to Germany in 1945 and restored the property.

Since then, the house has changed ownership several times, but remains a symbol of the importance of Jewish entrepreneurship in Munich’s history, as the Bernheimer company was an influential institution at its time. Even Hermann Göring, a member of the Nazi Party, was among the customers despite a prohibition to frequent Jewish businesses.

Munich: Jewish Museum

Although talks about a Jewish museum in the Bavarian capital arose as early as 1928, today’s institution was not established until 2007. The plans for a Jewish Center at St.-Jakobs-Platz by the local Jewish community inspired the city of Munich to finance the construction of a new museum to be embedded in the center. Objects of the current collection had already been displayed in the 1980s as part of a private museum by gallery owner Richard Grimm. The collection was later taken over by the Jewish community as part of a temporary museum until the Jewish Museum opened its doors.

The Jewish Center today encompasses three institutions: the Ohel Jacob Synagogue, the Jewish community center and the Jewish Museum of Munich. All three buildings were planned by the architects Rena Wandel-Hoefer and Wolfgang Lorch, who had previously designed the synagogue in Dresden. The simplistic and open layout of the museum building is in line with the selective but expressive exhibition, emphasizing the richness of Jewish history.

Although the museum focuses on Munich’s local Jewish history and religious rites, two of the three floors house changing exhibitions. Additionally, a learning center with a Jewish library, a bookstore and a café are permanent parts of the Institution.

Rostock: Max-Samuels Haus

The Max-Samuel-Haus in Rockstock hosts cultural events revolving around Jewish life and history. As the home of the Stiftung Begegnungsstätte für jüdische Geschichte und Kultur in Rostock, the building offers events all of kind - ranging from concerts to lectures - and includes exhibitions and a library.

The mansion was first commissioned and built in 1912 by Hans Winterstein, a local university professor and psychologist of Jewish ancestry. Nine years later, Jewish manufacturer Max Samuel bought the house, which was damaged early in WWII. After Samuel’s factory was confiscated by the Nazis, he and his family fled to England, where he continued to support persecuted Jews like he had already done in Rostock as the president of its Jewish community. It was not until 1991 that his son, Herbert Manuel, restored the building and donated it to the foundation that currently manages it.

Despite its mission to fight anti-Semitism by promoting Jewish history and culture, the institution has a strong focus on youth work and the remembrance of local Jews’ contribution to Society.

Worms: Jewish Cemetery

The city of Worms, once the seat of government for the Holy Roman Empire under the reign of emperor Otto the great, is home to Europe’s oldest Jewish cemetery, which was built around 1034 A.D. With a history of nearly one thousand years, the Heiliger Sand (German for “holy sand”) cemetery is one the most ancient remains of Jewish culture on the European continent. The name “holy sand” is homage to the first burial ground of the Jews in Worms. As the legend goes the Jews of Worms were so rich and powerful that they bought sand from Jerusalem and shipped it all the way to Germany, using it as a huge pile to bury their dead. Famous figures from Jewish history like Meir von Rothenburg (†1293) or Alexander ben Salomon Wimpfen (†1307) are buried here. The inscriptions in the tombstones tell of stories that happened hundreds of years ago. For example the gravestone of Mr. Joel, son of Mr. Me'ir, which was deciphered using high-tech computer analysis, speaks of the great massacre of 1096, when marauding crusaders slaughtered more than 400 Jews in Worms alone. The stones also show the colorful history of the City of Worms, containing different styles of graves that changed over the ages, and with some of the stones being ravaged by bullet holes from the Nine Years War from 1688 to 1697. Located near the famous cathedral of Worms one can enjoy one of Germanys most beautiful cathedrals right after visiting the graveyard.

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