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Out and about

June 5, 2012

DW explores the lesser known parts of Berlin that make up the Jewish community. From monuments and cemeteries to bakers and delis, past and present coexist.

Kosher bakery in Berlin
Image: DW

I'm slightly stunned and embarrassed as I start my walk through Jewish Berlin: I've just noticed that the only certified kosher bakery in town is just a few steps from my front door - and I didn't even know about it.

The Kädtler Bakery has been producing kosher products in Berlin's Prenzlauer Berg district since 2002. All of the breads and most of the cakes are kosher, labeled with a menorah.

In this case, kosher means organic at its purest. The products are baked with only natural ingredients, and are completely vegan with the exception of eggs. Just a third of the customers are Jewish, the rest are vegans and those who are careful about what they eat.

Rabbinical students and Rabbis visit the store on Mondays and Fridays to symbolically light the oven and check that the Jewish dietary laws are observed. The baker himself, however, is a Protestant.

Jewish Cemetery in Berlin
The cemetery is a place of reflectionImage: DW

At the cemetery

After enjoying a kosher bun, I head to Berlin's oldest Jewish cemetery in the Schönhauser Allee. It was inaugurated in 1827, then situated between open fields. Today, it is located in the middle of the city and a high wall secludes it from the surrounding apartment blocks.

A cluster of ivy, maple, fern, chestnut and beech trees create the green haven that encloses the overgrown grave stones. There were 22,500 individual and 750 family graves at the cemetery until it was closed in 1880. The most famous belonged to painter Max Liebermann's family.

You could spend many hours in this cemetery, but if you want an overview of some of site's most famous monuments, it might be best to consult "Jewish Life," a special cultural map of Jewish Berlin by Bill Rebinger's.

Anyone who sets out to trace Berlin's Jewish life can't overlook the Stolpersteine, or stumbling stones. These small brass plaques are embedded in the sidewalk in front of the former homes of victims of Nazi terror. The names of the victims are engraved on each plaque. The project, initially conceived as a local monument by Berlin artist Gunter Demnig, is now Europe wide. In Berlin alone, more than 3,500 such stones can be found on the city's streets.

Der verlassene Raum monument in Berlin
Karl Biedermann created this monument to Berlin's murdered JewsImage: DW

The abandoned space

Berlin's renowned Mitte district has no shortage of impressive monuments. On Koppenplatz, I come across another monument to Nazi victims, "Der verlassene Raum" or "The Abandoned Space." It features a table and two chairs on a parquet floor, where one of the chairs is overturned and lying on the ground as if someone jumped up to leave in a hurry. On the floor there is an inscription from a verse by the Nobel Literature Prize laureate Nelly Sachs, a Jewish poet forced to leave Germany in 1940.

A bite to eat

If you are looking for something to eat around lunch time, there are two typical Berlin Jewish restaurants just a few meters away from each other. In Tucholskystrasse, the renowned Beth Café offers excellent coffee and Israeli and Jewish specialties - all kosher. Just a few doors away in August Strasse, the newly established Mogg & Melzer is already famous for its pastrami sandwiches, although the non-kosher menu features all the classics of New York Jewish cuisine.

The new café is found in the newly-opened building that once housed a Jewish girls' school. This heritage-listed building dates from 1928, and belongs to Berlin's Jewish community, which had looked for an economically viable concept for the structure for some time.

The community then found Michael Fuchs, a gallery owner and a tenant willing to invest 5 million euros ($6.2 million) in the striking building to rescue it from dilapidation. Today, alongside Fuchs' gallery, the complex also houses several fine restaurants. The concept seems to work: Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and Julian Schnabel are just a few of the guests who have frequented the establishment.

Pastrami sandwich from Mogg & Melzer in Berlin
Mogg & Melzer has a New York-influenced menuImage: DW

Michael Fuchs has secured one of the most beautiful areas for his gallery - the school's former assembly hall, which features large windows on both sides. The Jewish community gave the gallery owner a free hand to do what he wished with the site.

When asked how his concept integrated into Jewish life in Berlin, Fuchs simply said, "This all came naturally," adding that he respected that "almost every corner of Berlin is kind of historic." So when the visitor leaves the deli with a pastrami sandwich in hand, they will find themselves directly in front of a wall of photos that show the history of the remarkable building.

Weekly ceremony

At the back of the former Jewish girls' school is the one-time biology room, known today as the "kosher classroom," where each Friday anyone can enjoy the traditional Shabbat dinner.

Guests, particularly non-Jews, are encouraged to join and partake in a four-course kosher meal, as well as the traditional lighting of the candles, the wine and bread blessing and the washing of the hands.

Author: Ricarda Otte / bos
Editor: Kate Bowen