While the Jüdische Kulturtage, or Jewish Culture Days, brings together Jewish music, Torah lectures, and Israeli chefs, Solveig Steinhardt takes a bite of a delicious sabich sandwich.
The Jewish Culture Days festival is a good excuse to learn about the rebirth of Jewish Berlin.
A BIT OF HISTORY
Back in the Middle Ages, when Berlin was little more than a village, a few Jewish families settled into what later became known as Mitte’s Kleiner Jüdenhof, founding a community that prospered through to modern times in alternating waves of expulsions and readmissions according to each ruler’s mood. With the Emancipation Decree of 1812, the Jews obtained Prussian citizenship and Berlin became an important center of Jewish life and the home of important philosophical movements such as Moses Mendelssohn’s Jewish Enlightenment, the Haskalah. In hopes of better integration into European society and increased secular education, the Haskalah ultimately resulted in Jewish emancipation and in the birth of Reform Judaism. At the outbreak of World War I, Berlin Jews fought in the war as German citizens, but only 15 years later they were being persecuted again and soon deported to concentration camps by the Nazi regime. After the war, it took the Germans a couple decades to begin facing their past and responsibilities, but once this process was started, there was no stopping it. From the enormous Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe near Brandenburg Gate to the Stolpersteine (brass stones bearing the name of a deported person), from steles listing concentration camps to the Bavarian Viertel’s moving signs reporting the Nazi restrictions and bans promulgated against the Jews, Berlin is now one big Shoah memorial, and the recent release of humorous books about Hitler is a sign that the Holocaust is something Germans can finally talk about openly. In the past decades, mass migration of Russian Jews into the city has set the foundations for a Jewish rebirth. This was followed by the arrival of an estimated 15,000 young Israelis, who have been moving to
trendy Berlin despite their German- or Polish-born grandparents’ fears. With 10 synagogues, a handful of Jewish schools, and a 10-day cultural festival, Berlin’s Jewish community is now one of the liveliest in Europe.
DAYS OF CULTURE
From 4–14 September, the Jüdische Kulturtage (www.juedische-kulturtage.org) will be celebrating Jewish culture with an all-round program of musical, literary, cinematic, and culinary events, beginning with countertenor Jochen Kowalski
and the Vogler Quartet’s tribute to classical composer Max Kowalski (1882–1956). Things will get a little wilder on 6 September, when DJs Shicco and Rap a Toi will combine the trendy atmospheres of Berlin and Tel Aviv at the Tel Aviv Party (Rocco & Sanny club, Friedrichstr. 113). If you were expecting clarinets and violins, listen to the Jewish
Monkeys’ klezmer rock tunes on 7 September, but the real musical highlight this year is Idan Raichel: The cross-cultural singer merges Israeli tones and the occasional religious chant with Ethiopian music and Caribbean rhythms and will be playing at the Rykestraße synagogue on 11 September. Lectures on Jewish history and religion and Jewish movies will feature throughout the duration of the festival, while on 6 September all of Berlin’s synagogues will open their doors to offer insights into the diversity of Berlin’s Jewish life, which ranges from Ashkenazi to Sephardi and from orthodox to liberal-egalitarian. And since there would be no Jewish culture without food, the organizers have also recreated the lively atmosphere of Tel Aviv’s most popular market, the Shuk Ha'Carmel, complete with spice vendors and falafel stands (7 September, Fasanenstr.). With a soundtrack of live klezmer, it will be a truly kosher experience.
The thing about Jewish cuisine is that there isn’t a real Jewish cuisine. Jewish food is a collection of many traditions absorbed by the Jewish diaspora and adapted to the dietary laws of the kashrus and, sometimes, to food-related restrictions imposed by local governments. Generally speaking, however, Berlin’s Jewish restaurants and eateries either focus on the Russian and American Ashkenazi traditions or on Israel’s Middle Eastern influences. At Salomon Bagels (Potsdamer Platz Arkaden, Alte Potsdamer Str. 7) you can order New Yorkstyle bagels with cheesecake and cinnamon rolls alongside a good coffee, while the kosher Beth
Café (Tucholskystr. 40) serves classics like gefilte fish and matzo dumplings to both religious and lay gourmands. Restaurant Masel Topf (Rykestr. 2) takes diners on a culinary journey to Russia with a menu oriented toward the shtetls, the villages of the Yiddish world. But there is one delight that shouts “Israel” more than anything else: hummus. Israel’s favorite dip can be enjoyed in various ways, all of which can be tried at Djimalaya (Invalidenstr. 159). A little less famous but just as delicious is sabich, the Shabbat morning sandwich of the Iraqi Jews, now available in Berlin at Zula (Husemannstr. 10.) This roundshaped and round-flavored specialty contains fried eggplant, hummus, vegetables, and a hard-boiled egg that has cooked in a red sauce for hours, all wrapped up in pita bread.
Below: The Vogler Quartet will be performing with Jochen Kowalski on 4 September.
Left: Tel Aviv's Shuk Ha'Carmel market will be recreated on Fasanenstraße on 7 September. Above: The Rykestraße synagogue in Prenzlauer Berg.
Catch the Jewish Monkeys' klezmer rock songs on 7 September.