At the dawn of the 20th century, Berlin had the largest Jewish population of any city in the world. One of the most positive developments since German reunification in 1989 has been the resurgence of Jewish life in the city. Synagogues are reopening, Israeli tourists are second only to Americans among non-European visitors to the city, and in September the “Jüdische Kulturtage” (Jewish culture days) celebrates its 25th year with a full program of concerts, exhibitions and other events.
A logical starting point for your exploration of Jewish Berlin is the Jewish Museum, housed in an elegant 18th century building with a spectacular annex designed by Daniel Libeskind, where jagged lines and gaping voids represent the savagery and devastation of the Holocaust. But that is only one part of the story, and a comprehensive permanent exhibition chronicles the fascinating 2000-year history of Jews in German-speaking lands.
The central “Scheunenviertel” district was once the focus of Berlin’s Jewish community. There the Beth Café serves kosher treats from falafel to dumplings, while the New Synagogue on Oranienburger Strasse, with its great gold-plated dome is a prominent local landmark. It no longer functions as a place of worship, but in neighboring Prenzlauer Berg, Germany’s biggest synagogue was reopened in 2007. English tours are conducted on Thursday afternoons.
The diversity of the city’s Jewish secular and religious life is reflected in services from Liberal to Ultra-Orthodox and social events ranging from Jewish singles events to the regular gay club night Berlin Meschugge. Numerous walking tours bring the city’s past and present Jewish experience to life. Here again, there’s a full spectrum of moods, from a solemn visit to the Jewish Cemetery to a “Jews and Booze” bar crawl through Prenzlauer Berg.