Liebermann

The New Synagogue in Berlin

I’ve barely been back in Berlin for a week, but I’ve already noticed how much more free time I have since being demoted to 8 hours a week. Granted, it means I have less money and am on the brink of an exist-ential crisis, and I should be using my extra time to work on my dissertation, but I’m also using it to fall back in love with Berlin in Spring.

While on my way to revisit the Dorotheenfriedhof with a friend who had come into town, we passed by the Jewish Synagogue, which is about 1 km from Friedrichstrasse S-Bahnhof (Cold War buffs will know this was the crossing point from East to West for civilians). While I was excited to show my friend the graves of Brecht, Fichte, et al., I did suggest we visit the Synagogue.

New_Synagogue

©1999 Valerie Kreutzer

My friend, who had been to Berlin several times but never made it inside, since the last time the opportunity presented itself, a series of bomb threats closed the place down for a few weeks (months?).  Even if the Synagogue and museum were now open, there were police guarding it, as they do every Jewish or Turkish building of significance in Berlin. It’s, as one person in Google Reviews posted, sobering. Germans are in a constant battle against their history and themselves in the form of blatant or covert neo-nazism.

Still, while the same Google Review comments largely suggested that going inside the museum was a waste of time and money, I think I already mentioned that I had the time, and the 5 Euro on museum entrance and visit to the dome weren’t terrible. Granted, I thought I would be able to go into the main hall of the Synagogue, since I’d been able to visit the Old New Synagogue in Prague once upon a time, which impressed heavily on my faith questioning as a teenager, but I understand why that area would be closed to the public.

At any rate, I paid my five euros and spent about thirty minutes going through the exhibition. First of all, the Synagogue isn’t new, but it was the new one when it opened in 1866.  A lot of the information in the exhibit was about the destruction of the building in the 1938 Pogrom-Kristallnacht and World War II, as well as the rebuilding. But what I liked about the exhibit was how much information was given about how the Berlin Jewish population was living in Berlin in the 1930s and 40s. One got insight into the Jewish Schools for Boys and Girls in the surrounding area, famous artists like Maz Liebermann who were part of the congregation, and the way members of the congregation would worship, celebrate and learn in the building. After seeing how the large orthodox Jewish population in south Florida observed Passover the past week, I was personally moved by the way this building afforded a place of security and community for more than fifty years and hundreds of thousands of people before Hitler and the Nazis came to power.

I was also surprised to learn that of the 14 synagogues attacked in the night of November 9, 1938, the New Synagogue was largely able to escape most of the destruction due to the intervention of the chief of police of the precinct, Wilhelm Kruetzfel. While most of the fire brigade and police on that night stood by and watched, Kruetzfel and those under his command forced the SA troops to leave and then called the fire brigade. Of course, he had to answer for it and managed to get by on the point that the building was a “historic cite” and deserved protection, but I believe it was more than that and I’m glad to know that somehow, in the face of a majority who go along with what is morally and ethically wrong, there are those who resist- or those who at least stand by what they know to be right.

Anyway, after the exhibit, my friend and I spent a while trying to find the way to the dome. When we found it, we did indeed find a smallish room with a not terribly spectacular view of surrounding Berlin, but I appreciated it. One got an idea of how “mitten drin” the Synogogue was in the center and I had a chance to reflect on the purpose for the dome as bringing closer to God and as a symbol.

My friend and I talked a little more about the symbolism of the building and the police guarding it after leaving. We both agreed that of all place to attack, a synagogue would not present a lot of victims and really just is a pile of fancy looking bricks. Still, I commented on the symbol of the place, and the way it has regrown into a center for learning and worship for the Jewish community, and that the message an attack would send, even if the destruction were not too terrible, would be enough to cause a good amount of damage to the feelings of community, security and tolerance the place provide. So, yeah.Good reasons to guard it.

We ran out of time (I guess I still do have some limits) to see the Friedhof, but I’m glad I went inside the Synagogue for a bit of history and reflection. I’m also always amazed at how well Berlin derails me from plans and often offers me better ones instead.