March 16, 2000
A Look at Jewish Germany
When I first lived in Europe I had no desire to go to Germany. I was not interested in seeing the country where the Holocaust evolved, nor was I interested in supporting the German economy. However, over a period of time, I have changed and have now visited Germany several times over the past few years. Moreover, during a recent visit, I discovered that the modern democratic Germany is the only nation on the continent that has really dealt with the Holocaust. It has demonstrated remorse for the atrocities committed by earlier generations, and the nation makes every effort to educate its people.
While I can understand how Jews and non-Jews alike might feel about walking down streets where Hitler once reigned, for travelers from all over the world, Germany offers an array of exciting and fulfilling things to do and see. For the Jewish traveler it is a country filled with a poignant, thought-provoking kaleidoscope of experiences that I believe are crucial to examine, so history is critically understood and such horrible acts are never repeated.
Throughout the nation you will find hundreds of fascinating memorials remembering victims, as well as Jewish sites both old and new.
A half-century after the Holocaust, most of Germany's Jews are found in big cities and, as a result, Jewish life, synagogues and kosher restaurants are also mostly found in big cities. What is particularly noteworthy about these communities is that Germany has a growing Jewish population.
At the center of Jewish life is Berlin, the capital of the reunified Germany. More than any other place, it is emblematic of how the transformed Germany is today. About 10,000 of the city's 12,000 Jews are non-Orthodox. However the estimated 50,000 Jews outside Berlin follow Orthodoxy, which is recognized as Germany's "official" Judaism and thus the communities receive government funding.
In Berlin, at the headquarters of the Berlin Jewish Community, and not far from the Kurfurstemdamm, you will find Arche Noah, Berlin's only truly kosher restaurant. You can also find kosher foods in the KaDeWe, Berlin's impressive department store. (Check the food hall on the 6th floor.) Also noteworthy is the sign across the street at the entrance to the Wittenbergplatz subway station. It reads, "Places of terror that we are never allowed to forget." The sign then lists the names of concentration camps where Jews were sent. This sign, like others throughout the nation, was deliberately placed so that even the casual passerby cannot fail to remember the past.
The Community Center in Berlin also serves as the focal point for many Jewish activities. It sponsors lectures, concerts and dances. During the high holidays a synagogue in the building is used for services. Otherwise, there are five synagogues that regularly hold services.
Not to be missed in Berlin is the new, postmodern Jewish Museum, which was designed by architect Daniel Libeskind. Standing adjacent to the former border between east and west, in the center of the city, is the very impressive museum. While there are not yet any artifacts inside, the museum is incredibly powerful and everywhere you stand you are a bit disillusioned due to sloped angles and zigzagged lines.
The Oranienburgerstrasse Synagogue is also worth seeing. This vast Moorish-influenced structure was torched and partially destroyed on Kristallnacht and, in 1945, allied bombers completed the destruction. Now the synagogue is newly restored and is used as a memorial and museum called Centrum Judaicum.
Only a mere 7,000 Jews live in the Frankfurt metropolitan area today. However, like many other German cities, it does not forget those Jews who once lived there. Behind the Judengasse (Jewish Alley) Museum is Frankfurt's oldest Jewish cemetery. It's surrounded by a high stone-wall where plaques with the names of 11,000 Frankfurt Jews who were murdered during the Holocaust are remembered.
It is said that Jews have lived in Stuttgart since the Middle Ages. Although many would think of this as just a city where cars are manufactured, it is a city that has great charm. In 1931, there were some 5,000 Jews living in Stuttgart; today the Jewish population numbers 1,600.
The synagogue in Stuttgart was opened in 1952 on the site of the former synagogue, dating from 1861, which was destroyed by the Nazi's on Kristallnacht. The premises is also home to the Jewish Community Center for all of the Baden-Wurttenberg region.
At the center of contemporary Cologne Jewry is the Great Roonstrasse Synagogue, which is the only synagogue in Cologne to survive the Nazis. The building also serves as the community center and also has a kosher restaurant called Koscheres. The menu is extensive and offers several meat, fish, soup and dessert dishes. While in Cologne, also interesting to see are the remains of the medieval mikva near the Rathaus.
The Rykestrasse synagogue in East Berlin was the only large Jewish prayer house not destroyed by the Nazis during Kristallnacht because it was attached to other buildings. The synagogue was restored in the mid-1980s. Out Of The Shadows, Edward Serotta
Country code for Germany: 49
Koshser and Jewish-Style Restaurants
Arche Noah, Koscheres Restaurant,
Fasanenstrasse 79-80, 10623 Berlin,
Café Oren, Oranienburger Strasse 28
Oranienburger Strasse 26
Salomon Bagel, Joachimstaler Strasse
(Inside a mall across from Potsdammer Platz)
Koscheres Restaurant, Roonstrasse 50
Sohar's Kosher Restaurant
Savignystrasse 66, 60325 Frankfurt
Schalom Kosher Restaurant, Hospitalstrasse, 36