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Culture

Jewish Culture Festival Dedicated to Mendelssohn

The Jewish Culture Festival opened this week in Berlin. This time the popular series of events is dedicated to the Mendelssohn family of composers and bankers.

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The Mendelssohns made a lasting mark on the world

For the past 18 years, Berlin has been playing annual host to two weeks of concerts, theater productions, readings, films and exhibitions with a Jewish flavor. The success of the event has been steadily growing, with visitors coming from far and wide to partake in a tradition which Berlin's Mayor, Klaus Wowereit describes as a "clear expression of the self-confidence and growth in the Jewish community, which has a firm place in Berlin's religious and cultural life."

Given that this is the year of a number of important anniversaries within the native Mendelssohn dynasty, the whole two weeks have been dedicated to the family, which contributed to shaping spiritual, cultural and economic life in the Berlin over several generations.

Anniversaries galore

Plakat Jüdische Kulturtage Berlin

The Mendelssohn family shield was adapted for the Jewish Culture Festival's poster

Seventy years ago, human rights activist Albrecht Mendelssohn Bartholdy (1874-1936) was expelled from the Hamburg Institute for Foreign Policy. Going back further to 150 years ago, the black sheep of the family, doctor and Socialist Arnold Mendelssohn (1817-1854), died during a military campaign in the Crimean War. Exactly 175 years ago, Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (1809-1847) (pictured) began the Bach renaissance with his reproduction of the St Matthew Passion. But perhaps the most important anniversary of all is that of 275 years since the birth of Moses Mendelssohn (1786-1829), one of the first Jews to bring secular culture to those living Orthodox Jewish lives.

Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy

Componist, conductor and pianist Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy

For all the anniversaries, the festival is by no means an historical affair. Associating it with the Mendelssohns provides a clear forum to raise questions about Jewish identity. Many of the Mendelssohns were christened, an act which went against the religious legacy of Moses Mendelssohn and a source of great provocation to some. In 1816, Abraham Mendelssohn (1776-1835), Moses' son, had his four children christened as Protestants, and an important branch of the family remained true to the Christian faith thereafter.

Historic Berlin locations

Besides tackling the issue of Jewish identity, a number of festival events will be staged in locations which are somehow associated with the Mendelssohn clan, all in a bid to underscore the importance of the family in the German capital.

Jüdische Kulturtage Berlin Arnold Mendelssohn

Composer Arnold Mendelssohn

It all starts with a venue in the center of Berlin, called the Kalkscheune, where Nathan Mendelssohn (1782-1852), Moses' youngest son, spent the last years of his life. During the festival, the Kalkscheune will be given over to chamber music composed by Nathan's grandson, Arnold Mendelssohn (1855-1933) (pictured).

Not far away, at the Volksbühne theater, a tribute will be paid to Nathan's rebellious son Arnold in the form of a reading and lieder evening. And in a little house at Berlin's Gendarmenmarkt, an exhibition will show the lives of the banking branch of the family.

The festival runs at various locations around Berlin until Nov. 29.

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