Jewish life in Berlin

Jewish life in Berlin

Immerse yourself in Jewish life

Neue Synagoge Berlin Centrum Judaicum – © Pierre Adenis

The dome of the New Jewish Synagogue gleams golden in the midday sun. Tourists swarm around in front of the fence at the entrance portal on Oranienburger Strasse. This is the ideal place to start your journey through “Jewish Berlin” in the heart of the city.

The synagogue's interior is simply magnificent. The New Synagogue certainly stands up to comparison with the even larger synagogue in Prenzlauer Berg. “As the new synagogue is also a museum, it has much more to offer tourists”, says Maya Zehden from the Jewish community. Your gaze not only falls on lavish ornaments, but also on the display panels of the Centrum Judaicum, the foundation that provides information about the building itself and all aspects of Jewish life.

Visitors can find out what everyday Jewish life looks like on a walk through the Spandau quarter in Berlin's Mitte district. “In principle, the whole area here is teeming with Jewish life”, says Zehden. The Jewish high school on Grosse Hamburger Strasse is a fine example. The school bell rings, children flood out through the gates. It's going home time. What observers might find strange is the spiky security fences and the guards posted in front of them. “Unfortunately, everyday Jewish life still takes place behind security fences”, says Zehden. Sometimes there are attacks.

Now with12,000 members, Berlin's Jewish community is once again the largest of its kind in Germany boasting a broad-ranging infrastructure: ten synagogues, two ritual pools, several schools and three Jewish cemeteries. Before the National Socialists came to power, there were 160,000 Jews living in the city. Visitors can choose from a wide range of tours enabling them to follow in the footsteps of history: from the ‘Stadtverfuhrung’ (city seduction) tours from the Berlin Culture office to the ‘Hörpol’ audio tours aimed at young people aged 14 or over. With your headphones on you can explore the Jewish quarter at your own pace. The twist: the texts that the young people listen to have also been recorded by young people. Alternatively, there are the ‘Milk & Honey Tours’ run by a Jewish company, offering two-hour walking tours that show tourists how Berlin's new centre is blossoming. You'll see Jewish newspaper publishers, theatres and kosher cafés.

Groups of visitors wishing to take a more in-depth look at the religion can visit the ritual bath, or mikveh, on Joachimstaler Strasse by prior arrangement. The entrance looks like the steps leading down into an indoor pool. But the mikveh is used by Jewish women not only for the purposes of personal hygiene, but also for ‘ritual purity’, e.g. immediately before getting married or on important holidays. The women can even wash their crockery in a smaller pool.

The ideal place to finish your guided walk is the largest surviving Jewish cemetery in Europe in Weissensee. This was the final resting place for a number of high-profile figures including the founder of the S. Fischer publishing house, Samuel Fischer, the famous GDR journalist Hilde Eisler and writer Stefan Heym. This fascinating cemetery tells many stories of notable personalities – and ordinary people too. The perfect way to round off a tour of Jewish life in Berlin.