Rediscover Germany’s hidden Jewish heritage in Munich, Erfurt, and Berlin

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    Nestled within the heart of Bavaria, Munich stands as a city steeped in history, culture, and diversity. Among its many layers lies a rich tapestry of Jewish heritage, woven intricately into the fabric of the city’s story. From the bustling streets of the Altstadt to the serene corners of its Jewish quarters, Munich’s Jewish legacy spans centuries, marked by resilience, creativity, and enduring traditions. Despite the challenges of persecution and upheaval, the Jewish community in Munich has left an indelible mark on the cityscape, shaping its art, commerce, and intellectual discourse. Join us as we embark on a journey through time, exploring the vibrant hues of Jewish life in Munich, where every cobblestone tells a tale and every synagogue echoes with the voices of generations past.

    My exploration of Munich’s Jewish heritage at the Jewish Museum Munich was truly comprehensive, forming a vital component of the city’s new Jewish Center, located at Sankt-Jakobs-Platz. Erected between 2004 and 2007, this museum stands on the precise site where a former synagogue once stood, demolished by the Nazis during their reign. Positioned in close proximity to the main synagogue, Ohel Jakob, and the Jewish Community Center, it serves as the central hub for the Jewish Community of Munich and Upper Bavaria.

    Within its walls, the museum encompasses more than just exhibitions. It houses essential community facilities such as a public elementary school, a kindergarten, a youth center, a community auditorium, and the esteemed kosher restaurant, Einstein. Unlike traditional art museums or Holocaust memorials, the Jewish Museum Munich has a distinct focus on public education and the debunking of stereotypes surrounding Jewish culture.

    During my visit, I found myself immersed in a journey that delved into the depths of Jewish history, traditions, and contemporary life. Through engaging exhibits and interactive displays, the museum fosters understanding and appreciation for Munich’s Jewish community, its contributions, and its resilience throughout history.

    Adjacent to the museum stands the Ohel Jakob Synagogue, an architectural masterpiece completed between 2004 and 2006. Its design, reminiscent of the Wailing Wall and the “Ohel” tent used by the Israelites during their desert journey, is a striking homage to Jewish heritage. Serving as the spiritual center for Munich’s Jewish community, nestled within Sankt-Jakobs-Platz, the synagogue’s main entrance features Hebrew inscriptions representing the Ten Commandments, meticulously crafted in Budapest.

    Ohel Jakob Synagogue

    Ohel Jakob Synagogue: New York Jewish Travel Guide

    The Nazi Documentation Center in Munich presents a compelling exhibition that delves into the rise of the Third Reich and Munich’s significant role during that tumultuous era. Through cutting-edge technology and audio guides, visitors are immersed in a meticulously curated and engaging exploration of history.

    For an exceptional dining experience in Munich, I recommend a visit to the Eclipse Grill Bar. This authentic Israeli and Mediterranean restaurant is a true culinary gem. Indulge in mouthwatering grilled meats and fish, alongside a tantalizing selection of traditional Israeli salads, including beloved classics like hummus, tahini, and tomato.

    “Erfurt’s Treasures: Unveiling the Medieval Jewish Legacy”

    Erfurt, an ancient city, proudly stands as one of Germany’s most impeccably preserved medieval treasures, having emerged from World War II largely unscathed. This legacy encompasses a remarkable array of ancient Jewish artifacts and original manuscripts. Among these treasures stands the Old Synagogue, with its roots dating back to 1100. Alongside it, visitors will discover the Mikveh, a Jewish ceremonial bath believed to originate around 1250, and the remarkably intact Old Synagogue basement, safeguarding the renowned Erfurt Treasure—a hoard of 60 pounds of gold, silver, and precious gems once owned by a prosperous local Jew. Of particular significance is a delicately crafted golden wedding ring from the early 14th century, inscribed with “Mazeltov,” serving as a poignant reminder of its former Jewish owner. Among the diminishing remnants of medieval Jewish architecture, the Old Synagogue in Erfurt not only stands as the oldest but also as the most meticulously preserved example in central Europe.

    The Old Synagogue of Erfurt

    The Old Synagogue of Erfurt: New York Jewish Travel Guide

    BERLIN: WHAT TO SEE

    Berlin boasts numerous must-see attractions, and chief among them is the Jewish Museum, inaugurated in 2001 as one of Europe’s largest.  Inside, visitors are treated to a captivating narrative spanning two millennia of German-Jewish history, showcased through both permanent exhibits and ever-changing temporary displays.

    The museum’s architectural brilliance is evident both internally and externally. Libeskind’s design not only intrigues aesthetically but also resonates emotionally, drawing visitors into a profound engagement with the space. Three distinct corridors guide visitors through different historical themes: one dedicated to the Holocaust, another to Jewish exile, and a third to Jewish continuity. Each corridor culminates in a specially designed “garden,” evoking specific memories and emotions. Additionally, a traditional museum wing meticulously traces the intricate history of the Jewish people.

    Adjacent to the Jewish Museum lies the Holocaust Memorial, also known as the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Below, an attached “Place of Information” memorializes approximately three million Jewish Holocaust victims, with names sourced from Israel’s Yad Vashem Museum. Construction of this poignant structure began on April 1, 2003, and concluded on December 15, 2004.

    The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

    The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe: New York Jewish Travel Guide

    The memorial deeply affected me, stirring a mix of wonder and reverence. As I wandered through its solemn expanse, I couldn’t help but ponder its profound meaning. Beginning at the edges, the concrete blocks were modest, but as I journeyed inward, they grew taller, creating a sense of confinement and remembrance.

    The New Synagogue, a remarkable architectural gem, was built between 1859 and 1866, serving as the main synagogue for Berlin’s Jewish community. Its resplendent eastern Moorish style, reminiscent of the Alhambra, makes it a significant architectural monument from the latter part of the 19th century in Berlin. Despite enduring the horrors of Kristallnacht, it miraculously survived, though it suffered extensive damage before and during World War II, leading to much of its structure being demolished. The current building on the site is a meticulous reconstruction of the facade, including its entrance, dome, and towers, maintaining a tangible connection to its storied past.

    Inside the museum, visitors can experience the grandeur of the synagogue in its prime, offering a vivid glimpse into the thriving community that once surrounded it. Ironically, the New Synagogue now stands as one of Berlin’s most magnificent structures, featuring an expansive golden dome and ornate minarets. With a capacity to accommodate approximately 3,000 worshippers, it proudly held the title of Germany’s largest synagogue.

    The New Synagogue

    The New Synagogue-New York Jewish Travel Guide

    For travelers seeking kosher dining options, I highly recommend Bleiberg, a Glatt kosher restaurant offering a delightful array of culinary experiences. Bleiberg caters to both dairy and meat preferences with a diverse menu featuring salads, sandwiches, and more. Enhance your meal with a selection of wines and beers. Whether you’re in the mood for fish, pizza, or pasta, Bleiberg is sure to satisfy your cravings. Additionally, the restaurant hosts live bands, treating guests to lively Klezmer music and other favorites, creating an unforgettable dining experience.

    “Resilience Amid Tragedy: The Rebirth of Berlin’s Old Jewish Cemetery”

    Situated on Grosse Hamburger Strasse, the Old Jewish Cemetery holds profound historical significance as the oldest burial ground for Berlin’s Jewish community. Established in 1672, it is the resting place of Moses Mendelssohn (1729–1786), a renowned philosopher and key figure in the Jewish Enlightenment movement. Despite facing destruction during World War II and being used as a temporary holding location for Jews before deportation to concentration camps, the cemetery was thankfully officially reopened in late 2008. It is estimated that approximately 12,000 Jewish citizens found eternal rest here, serving as a poignant testament to Berlin’s rich Jewish heritage.

    The Old Cemetery

    The Old Cemetery: New York Jewish Travel Guide

    For Jewish travelers eager to explore Germany’s rich heritage, numerous options await to uncover the country’s history. The Germany National Tourism Board has created an e-brochure titled “Germany for the Jewish Traveler,” providing valuable insights into the Jewish history of specific German towns and offering potential itineraries for travelers to explore.

    For further details,

    To plan your trip to Germany, reach out to the German National Tourist Office at www.germany.travel.

    This story and its photographs were contributed by Meyer Harroch, from the New York Jewish Travel Guide and New York Jewish Guide.

    The author participated in a press trip sponsored by the German Tourist Office.

     

     

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