In this ethnographic essay, I reflect on the origins and present condition of the new (post-2010) Israeli diaspora in Berlin. Based on 10 months of participant observation, I map out the main sub-streams of this emigration; elicit the economic, professional, and political reasons for leaving Israel; and explore these émigrés’ initial encounter with German society. My observations suggest that many Israeli residents of Berlin (mostly secular) rediscover their Jewishness along diasporic lines and forge ties with the local religious and community organizations. Being a small minority in the German-speaking milieu, Israelis invest in building their own Hebrew-based community networks, including media outlets and cultural and educational institutions. Lastly, I explore these émigrés’ ties with Israel and conclude that many Israelis in Berlin are sojourners rather than immigrants and that Berlin is but one phase in their life journey.
Back to Being Jewish?
Chisanga N. Siame
A central argument of this article is that Isaiah Berlin's notion of cultural pluralism can be described as relativistic, and that he should not have repudiated the relativism, but simply defended it as part of the reality of the global constellation of cultures. Berlin's relativism emerges into a more generous light, in which radical differences among cultures occupy centre stage. Focusing on cultural relativism and its possible sources in Berlin unveils the neglected role that his famed concept of 'negative' liberty plays in assuring the distinctiveness of individual cultures and shared humanity, both of which constitute cultural pluralism. I conclude that Berlin's notion of cultural pluralism is relativistic based not only on substantive evidence, but also on a more realistic definition of the concept. Moreover, his conception of cultural pluralism and in particular its relativism highlight the subjects of cultural identity and autonomy in a world of immense power imbalances among nations and peoples.
Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
Albert H. Friedlander
During the summer of 1999 the 'Süddeutsche Zeitung' ran a long series of articles entitled 'The Future in the Present'. This text (Number 28 in the series, somewhat altered) was entitled Der Bär kann noch viel Lernen – The Berlin bear still has a lot to learn.
Auto-ethnographical Reflections at the Jewish Museum Berlin
Victoria Bishop Kendzia
This article explores the issue of ethnic attributions versus options pertaining to Jewishness in Germany. The methodology is a combination of standard ethnographic fieldwork with Berlin-based high-school students before, during and after visits to the Jewish Museum Berlin (JMB) and auto-ethnography detailing and analysing my own experiences in and outside of the research sites. My goal is to illustrate particularities of interactions in sites like the JMB by contrasting the way in which Jewishness is handled in and outside of the standardised research situation. Further, the material points to continuities between anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. My analysis aims to open up further, productive discussion on this point.
Berlin and Leipzig
Jon Berndt Olsen
This paper explores the memorial projects in Berlin and Leipzig, Germany, to commemorate the fall of communism and the reunification of Germany. While neither memorial has yet been completed, the debates reveal a great deal of tension between the memorial preferences of ordinary citizens and those of the elected political elite. Further, the debates illustrate the emergence in a large segment of society of a desire to balance the memories of Germany’s darker past with positive memories of its accomplishments.
Engaging German-Jewishness at the Jewish Museum Berlin
Jackie Feldman and Anja Peleikis
The Jewish Museum Berlin (JMB) is a dynamic, performative space that negotiates between representing the Jew as an integral part of German history and as ultimate Other. While this tension has been documented through the political history of the museum (Lackmann 2000; Pieper 2006; Young 2000), we focus on the dynamics of guided tours and special events. We claim that guiding and festival events at JMB marginalise Holocaust memory and present an image of Jews of the past that promotes a multicultural vision of present-day Germany. In guiding performances, the identity of the guide as German/Jewish/Muslim is part of the guiding performance, even when not made explicit. By comparing tour performances for various publics, and the 'storytelling rights' granted by the group, we witness how visitors' scripts and expectations interact with the museum's mission that it serve as a place of encounter (Ort der Begegnung). As German-Jewish history at JMB serves primarily as a cosmopolitan template for intercultural relations, strongly affiliated local Jews may not feel a need for the museum. Organised groups of Jews from abroad, however, visit it as part of the Holocaust memorial landscape of Berlin, while many local Jews with weaker affiliations to the Jewish community may find it an attractive venue for performing their more fluid Jewish identities – for themselves and for others.
The Case of Ninotchka and Russkii vopros
This article deals with ideologies of domesticity, femininity, and consumerism as they were articulated in two films in the early Cold War. These films, shown in occupied Berlin from the spring of 1948 through the first few months of 1949, were Ernst Lubitsch's Hollywood classic Ninotchka (1939) and the Soviet film Russkiivopros (The Russian Question, 1948). They portrayed competing notions of domestic consumption and the “good life” in the aftermath of the Second World War—issues more commonly understood to have characterized the later, thaw-era, years of the conflict. Though they were shown at a time of heightened political and ideological tensions, neither painted a one-dimensional or demonized portrait of the enemy. Instead, both films employed narratives about the private lives and material desires of women in order to humanize their enemies and yet make a statement about the inhuman nature of the other system.
Elizabeth Strom and Margit Mayer
National and world events shape all cities, but in Berlin they have a
physical presence. For Berliners, the Cold War was tangible, manifested
as a wall and death strip guarded by armed soldiers and attack
dogs. Today that wall is gone and, if national power brokers and the
real estate development community have their way, Berlin will soon
be a “normal” European city and German capital. Not only will the
ghosts of the Nazi past be exorcised, but any tangible inheritance of
the postwar period—in East Berlin the legacies of state socialism, in
West Berlin the strange fruits of a subsidized economy—will disappear.
Global Memory, Trauma and the 'Negative Sublime'
Andrew S. Gross
This essay argues that the construction of the Jewish Museum Berlin and the Berlin Holocaust Memorial constitutes a paradigm shift in Holocaust commemoration in Germany. The structures architecturally resemble their US counterparts and particularly the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum more than they do the other memorials and museums in Berlin’s complex commemorative landscape. American responses to the European catastrophe have significantly impacted European commemorative forms. Indeed, an internationally recognizable memorial architecture seems to be emerging, one emphasizing gaps, voids, incongruities and the personal relation to what theorists and commentators have begun to call ‘negative’ or ‘evil sublime’. Contemporary memorials and museums are not designed to ‘merely’ house collections; rather, they draw attention to themselves as symbols and symptoms of traumatic memory. They act out the trauma of the Holocaust as architecture; walking through them is supposed to be a step towards working through that trauma as feeling and experience.
Ingeborg Majer O'Sickey
In November 1993, more than fifty years after patrons of the popular
Café Josty on the famed Potsdamer Platz in Berlin came to enjoy a
good cup of coffee and a piece of cake, or smoke a rare fine cigar
before the bombs would raze the café to the ground, a hydraulic excavator’s
bucket stopped in mid-air and miraculously saved five white
porcelain cups with the initials CJ engraved upon each one in red.
The delicate cups had rested under no more than ten feet of loose soil
and rubble near the place where the café’s basement had been. The
bombs that fell on the Potsdamer Platz between 1943 and May 1945
and a scoop by an excavator bucket bookend a series of perilous situations
the cups survived. The East German regime sent tanks across
the square during the uprising in June of 1953, and the wall separating
Berlin was built right through the middle of it in August of 1961.
After lying dormant and overgrown with weeds for many of its subsequent
thirty years, the Potsdamer Platz was finally all but leveled; the
Weinhaus Huth was the only building that escaped the dynamite and
wrecker ball. The swing of the wrecking ball made room for the most
controversial construction project in recent German history: the citywithin-
a-city Daimler-Benz would build on the Potsdamer Platz.