Rediscover Germany’s hidden Jewish Heritage in Munich, Erfurt and Berlin
My initial press trip started with an amazing flight on Air Berlin, my new number one airline from here on now. Flying business class was a real treat as they provided us with all the amenities we could hope for, such as a seat extending into a full bed, which made the trip very comfortable and time flew by like never before.
Upon my arrival in Munich, I was very pleased with my hotel, Hotel Laimer Hof am Schloss, which is located in a pretty, upscale neighborhood near Nymphenburg Palace. The hotel is only a 20 minute trolly ride to the old center of town. The atmosphere was warm and welcoming from arrival to departure. The rooms are impeccably clean, the staff were really friendly and helpful, great value for money, and what I really loved was the hotel has a very individual feel to it. Overall, highly recommended for those looking to enjoy a peaceful stay in Munich without breaking the bank.
My first visit was the Jewish Museum Munich which provided an overview of Munich’s Jewish history and is part of the city’s new Jewish Center located at Sankt-Jakobs-Platz. The Museum was constructed right in the center of Munich on a place where once a synagogue was located before the Nazi’s destroyed it. The museum was built from 2004- 2007 and is run by the city of Munich.
It is situated between the main synagogue Ohel Jakob and the Jewish Community Center which is home to the Jewish Community of Munich and Upper Bavaria and houses a public elementary school, a kindergarten, a youth center as well as a community auditorium and kosher restaurant called Einstein, which I did not have the chance to eat at, unfortunately.
This is truly a remarkable museum. I loved the permanent exhibit about Jewish history in Munich and Jewish traditions, as well as the exhibit about Jewish contributions to beer production in Germany, in particular Munich. It was fascinating and a must-see for all beer lovers. It is worth noting that you are not permitted to carry bags into the museum and that they will need to be left in the cloak room upon arrival. However, they will provide you with a clear bag to carry essentials around if you don’t have pockets for them. This is not an art museum, nor is it a Holocaust museum. The goal is to educate the public and provide a way to break stereotypes about Jews. I would say this is a MUST when visiting Munich.
Next to the Museum is the Ohel Jakob Synaguoge (Jacob’s tent), an interesting architecture gem that was built between 2004 and 2006. It resembles the Wailing Wall and the “Ohel” tent where the Israelites’ religious wares were stored during their 40 years- journey through the desert and it’s the new main synagogue for the Jewish community in Munich, located at Sankt-Jakobs-Platz. The main portal was manufactured in Budapest and features Hebrew letters depicting the Ten Commandments. The interior walls are paneled with warm cedar decorated with golden psalms. The synagogue can seat 550 worshippers. For reasons of security, the only way to get inside the synagogue is by participating in a guided tour. The tour costs 5 Euros, takes about an hour, and includes the synagogue itself & the 32 meter long “Gang der Erinnerung” (hallway of remembrance).
This synagogue is an architectural masterpiece, inside and out. Definitely worth visiting for tourists as well as residents.
In Munich, I had the pleasure of discovering the Eclipse Grill-Bar. The owner, Ben Malenboym, has created an authentic Israeli, Mediterranean restaurant. The restaurant serves traditional Israeli salads such as hummus, tehina, tomato salads, grilled meat, fish and more. I had the opportunity to meet the manager of the restaurant, Giula Diplilla, who suggested the salmon with vegetables. It was divine and I highly recommend it! Simply Incredible! Think Munich, think Eclipse Grill-Bar. Great food, fish, falafel, salads – anything your heart may desire! The food was also very elegantly prepared and displayed. Check us out at http://www.eclipse-grillbar.de/en/
Next and last visit in Munich was The Nazi Documentation Center, which is an interesting exhibition of the history of the rise of the Third Reich and the role Munich played during this time. Since the museum is quite new, it has advanced technology with the audio guides and everything is perfectly displayed. I spent about three hours going through the exhibit. Yes, it is a lot of reading if you choose to do it all, but you can also choose to skim through some sections and spend more in-depth times at others. There was a lot of good information here. The video of the destruction in Munich was very interesting, to say the least, and overall, it is well worth your time when you visit Munich. I cannot recommend it enough!
My next stop was Erfurt, an old town, and one of the most intact medieval cities in Germany, having survived World War II with very little damage.
The architectural monuments built by Erfurt’s Jewish community in the Middle Ages are part of the town’s great historical heritage. This includes the almost completely preserved Old Synagogue whose earliest traces date back to 1100 and the mikveh Jewish ritual bath from around 1250, as well as one of the largest and most important collections of ancient Jewish treasures and authentic contemporary manuscripts. Its cellar features the Erfurt Treasure, consisting of 60 pounds of gold, silver, and jewels that once belonged to a wealthy local Jew. The prize piece is a finely detailed golden wedding ring from the early 14th century, inscribed with the words “mazel tov,” indicating that it once belonged to a Jewish woman.
Of the few remaining Jewish buildings from the Middle Ages, the Old Synagogue is not only the oldest, but also the best-preserved example in central Europe.
I just love seeing old things from the medieval period! And this is actually the only synagogue that lasted for so long and survived all the events Erfurt experienced. This is a cultural treasure not to be missed. Five stars! I would give 10 stars if that would be an option!
My last stop for my visit was Berlin. Berlin is a world city of culture, politics, media and arts. This metropolis, and capital city of Germany, is a popular tourist destination. For the Jewish travelers, here are some of the most exciting places to see, which is what I did.
First, The Jewish Museum: The Jewish Museum in Berlin is one of the largest Jewish Museums in Europe. In three buildings, two of which are new additions, specifically built for the museum by architect Daniel Liebeskind, two millennia of German-Jewish history are on display in the permanent exhibition as well as in various changing exhibitions. The museum was opened in 2001 and is one of Berlin’s most frequented museums.
The design of this museum is spectacular, both inside and out. Daniel Liebeskind designed the new addition to the museum – it is a very interesting building architecturally, and the inside of it is absolutely stunning. Liebeskind’s use of space inside the museum is very moving and makes the visitor become more vulnerable and engaged. There are 3 corridors – one for the Holocaust, one for Jewish exile, and one for Jewish continuity. At the end of each corridor, there is a special “garden” designed to evoke specific memories and feelings. In addition to this, there is a traditional museum wing that traces the history of the Jewish people. For me, it was the Best museum I’ve ever been to! The architecture made visiting this place an unforgettable experience and unlike any other museum. The tower took my breath away and the empty spaces gave me goose bumps and the complete collection impressed me beyond words. A must-see!
Next was the The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, also known as the Holocaust Memorial. It’s a memorial in Berlin to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, designed by architect Peter Eisenman and engineer Buro Happold. An attached underground “Place of Information” holds the names of approximately 3 million Jewish Holocaust victims, obtained from the Israeli museum Yad Vashem. Building began on April 1, 2003, and was finished on December 15, 2004. It was inaugurated on May 10, 2005, sixty years after the end of World War II, and opened to the public two days later.
It’s a very moving monument. The Memorial was amazing and visually stunning. Take the time to meditate upon the significance of it as you walk through the memorial. From the edge of the memorial, near the sidewalk, the concrete blocks start out small. As we walked toward the center, the ground sloped downward and the blocks got taller and taller. This gave me almost a sense of claustrophobia and made me think of the constant presence of the guards and overcrowded conditions at the camps. A very sad tribute to so many lives taken, and I was glad to see the German people honor the memory of the innocents.
I must include a great Glatt Kosher Restaurant for any of you kosher travelers in Berlin. I have found a perfect place for you – it’s called Bleibergs. Not only is it the place for dairy and pareve, salads and sandwiches, but the wine and beer on the menu will complete your meal to the fullest. The menu consists of fish, pizza and pasta and will delight you, as will the Jewish favorites surprise you. Live bands are regularly playing and will entertain you with klezmer music and other favorites. Try to catch KlezBanda with Anna Metaxa, Jossif Gofenberg and the band one night. And, if the mood fits, get up and dance. You will not be alone in your undertaking!
The New synagogue should also be on your list of must-see places. The New Synagogue was built 1859–1866 as the main synagogue of the Berlin Jewish community. Because of its splendid eastern Moorish style and resemblance to the Alhambra, it is an important architectural monument of the second half of the 19th century in Berlin.
One of the few synagogues to survive Kristallnacht, it was badly damaged prior to and during World War II and subsequently much was demolished; the present building on the site is a reconstruction of the ruined street frontage with its entrance, dome and towers, and only a few rooms behind. It is truncated before the point where the main hall of the synagogue began.
The museum tells the splendor of the synagogue in the past, and the life around it back then. Ironically, The New Synagogue is one of the best buildings in Berlin. It is beautiful, with a huge ornate gold dome surrounded by artistic minarets. It could house around 3000 worshippers and was the largest synagogue of Germany. Currently you can see a beautifully restored shell which really broke my heart. Seeing the totally destroyed interior was quite an experience.
The Old Jewish Cemetery;
The Old Jewish Cemetery on Grosse Hamburger Strasse is the oldest cemetery for Berlin’s Jewish community after the Judenkiewer in Spandau. The cemetery contains the grave of Moses Mendelssohn (1729-1786), a philosopher and the forefather of Jewish Enlightenment. The cemetery was built in 1672 and destroyed during World War II. The site was used as a holding place for Jews before their deportation to concentration camps. The reopening of the cemetery was celebrated at the end of 2008. It is estimated that a total of around 12,000 Jewish citizens lie buried here.
This is a site of an old Jewish cemetery that is now a mass grave. The one reconstructed grave is of Moses Mendelssohn. The entire area is well maintained, covered with beautiful ivy, and contains peaceful walking paths. The statues by the front are very thought provoking, and you will see where the pebbles by the front gate are replaced on a daily basis.
A large amount of tourism options is available for the Jewish travelers to discover in Germany. The Germany National Tourism Board make an e-brochure called “ Germany for the Jewish Traveler” with the purpose of offering insight into the Jewish history of particular German towns and presenting Jewish travelers with information about travel opportunities in the country.
In addition, the opportunity to historical sites specifically aimed at Jewish travelers would make a visit to Germany more interesting for the Jewish traveler. Jewish people have played an important role in Germany for many years, and hope that they continue to play as significant a role if not more significant as time goes on.
Story & photography by Meyer Harroch -New York Jewish travel Guide & New York Jewish Guide.com
To plan a trip to Germany, contact the German National Tourist Office or log on to: www.germany.travel
Airberlin photograph courtesy Airberlin.com
Fly Air Berlin to Germany: www.airberlin.com
Hotel Laimer Hof
Mercure Hotel Erfurt Altstadt
Crowne Plaza Berlin City Centre