Israeli artists redefine Berlin | Arts | DW | 27.01.2012
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Israeli artists redefine Berlin

With its affordable studios and lively arts scene, the German capital has a magic pull on artists - even those from Israel. Some young artists break their grandparents' taboos to rediscover the Berlin of today.

Cartoonist Gabriel S. Moses

Gabriel S. Moses worked through his own experiences in his last graphic novel

Benyamin Reich's move to Berlin wasn't without complications. His father, a well-traveled man, had always refused to go to Germany. Instead, he would take some rather convoluted detours on his trips. He was haunted by the atrocities of the Holocaust.

Nevertheless, Benyamin Reich moved to Berlin, renouncing his family's fears, Israel, and life in an orthodox Jewish community.

Reich is a photographer, living in Berlin since 2009. He grew up as the son of a rabbi, with 10 siblings, in a religious community - a "ghetto," as he calls it. Today, he doesn't wear a black hat or side curls, but the men in his photos do.

"I am still trying to come to terms with it, but the experience from my childhood creeps into my work. It's a part of me," said the 34-year-old. His photos present ambiguous impressions of orthodox Jews, with bare chests and phylacteries.

"I had to leave home first, to get a new outside perspective, and to see how life can be," he added.

Benyamin Reich, T'filin schel jad, 2005

Benyamin Reich's photos are now on display at Berlin's Jewish Museum

Appropriately enough, his photos can now be seen as part of the "How German is it?" exhibition currently running at the Jewish Museum in Berlin.

A safe place

Benyamin Reich appreciates the place he now calls home. "The city is raw and you get the feeling you're able to help shape it."

In Berlin, rent is affordable and the cost of living is relatively low. "For a studio like this one, I would definitely pay three times as much in Tel Aviv or New York," said Reich, who rents a large studio in a central location with other photographers. ''This feeling of freedom attracts artists from all over the world to Berlin, among them Israelis, who don't think about the past - that occurs to most of them once they're already here.''

This is something Benyamin Reich also noticed. Since moving, he's inevitably had to consider what happened during the Second World War and how the Holocaust could possibly have come about. His grandparents fled Hungary and Poland at the time; they never spoke about it, but always warned their children and grandchildren never to go there.

War history is much more present in Berlin than in Israel, but Reich doesn't let it get to him. "Germany is the safest place for Jews," he said, jokingly but with a hint of seriousness. ''The worst has already happened.''

Israeli Gabriel S. Moses, a cartoonist and artist, feels the same way. "The worst conceivable time that a country can go through is thankfully over and the Germans have had to learn some difficult lessons from it."

Artistic launchpad

Like Reich, Moses was drawn to Berlin's art scene, especially for his first work, an experimental graphic novel that he was unable to find a publisher for in Israel.

"When an artist wants to come to Europe, Berlin is the perfect starting place," said Moses. Meanwhile, he has already published his second graphic novel, "Subz," an autobiographical book about teenage life in the Israeli ceasefire.

Moses cannot imagine living in Israel right now. "Everything everyone does or says in Israel is a political statement. Even when you're out celebrating, you have to be able to justify yourself," he explained.

Photographer and video artist Benyamin Reich

Benyamin Reich is a photographer and video artist

His creativity suffered greatly through these social and political conflicts. "My thoughts were like a busy signal. In Israel I feel as though I'm constantly being yelled at." In Berlin, he senses a great tolerance for and interest in having an artistic vision.

And that's what he associates most with this city: the present. The past comes a distant second.

Benyamin Reich's parents have finally given the present in Berlin a chance, as well, when they visited their son.

"It was hard for them because my grandparents had prohibited them from ever going to Germany," said Reich, "But I think it was a very meaningful trip for them." His mother was pleasantly surprised with all the synagogues not far from Benyamin's studio, which he visits regularly.

Author: Nadine Wojcik / jw
Editor: Kate Bowen

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