Jewish Journal

Jewish travel tips for Berlin: much more than Holocaust history

by Ruth Ellen Gruber

December 22, 2012 | 10:23 am

Guarded entrance to the Jewish community center in Fasanenstrasse. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

My friend and colleague Toby Axelrod, who has lived in Berlin for years and knows the city -- and its Jewish life and culture -- in detail, has put together a brief itinerary for Jewish-interest tourists to the German capital.

"Berlin offers Jewish tourists more than Holocaust history," she writes for JTA, and she provides a run-down of famous sites, like the Berlin Jewish Museum of Berlin, as well as more out of the way places..

It used to be that few Jews would consider Berlin, or even Germany at all, as a tourist destination. But that has changed as Berlin has become a top European draw, particularly for young people and artsy types.

For Jewish visitors, it’s not despite the history, but largely because of it that Berlin is so compelling. The place where the destruction of European Jewry was planned is now a site of Jewish resurgence, and Jewish visitors would do well to see both sides of the equation.

She describes how the immigration of thousand of Jews from the former Soviet Union -- and Israel --  has changed the face of Jewish Berlin:

Though the official number of Jews in Berlin is 11,000, up from 4,000 two decades ago, locals believe there may be as many as 30,000 Jews here, half of them Israeli expats who have come for Berlin’s thriving cultural and arts scene. The Hebrew language website Israelisinberlin.de and Aviv Russ’ weekly Kol Berlin radio show offer a taste of Israeli life here. Those interested in clubbing it Jewish style can also see if Israeli expat Aviv Netter is planning one of his famous dance parties by visiting the Facebook group Berlin Meschugge. Or they can party with young Jews from Berlin’s Russian-Jewish scene at the “Russendisko” dance parties of Jewish writer and DJ Wladimir Kaminer.

If you time your visit to the city’s annual Days of Jewish Culture, held in late summer for about two weeks, you’ll see not only world-class musicians and other Jewish and Israeli performers in Berlin -- but also the undying fascination non-Jewish Germans have with all things Jewish. Likewise, the annual Berlin-Potsdam Jewish Film Festival, which is scheduled for April 29 - May 12, 2013; many films and events are in English.

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The award-winning American writer Ruth Ellen Gruber has chronicled contemporary Jewish developments in Europe for more than two decades. As the author of National Geographic...

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