Jewish life in the historic center of Berlin, around the Oranienburger Straße, Rosenthaler Straße and the Scheunenviertel

Friday, 12 April 2019 - 11:00 am (CET/MEZ) Berlin | Author/Destination:
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Oranienburger Straße and New Synagogue © Rohieb/cc-by-sa-3.0

Oranienburger Straße and New Synagogue © Rohieb/cc-by-sa-3.0

Oranienburger Straße is a street in central Berlin. It is located in the borough of Mitte, north of the River Spree, and runs south-east from Friedrichstraße to Hackescher Markt.

There are also two lesser known streets named “Oranienburger Straße” in Berlin, in Reinickendorf and in Lichtenrade. The name is derived from the nearby town of Oranienburg. The street is popular with tourists and Berliners for its nightlife with numerous restaurants and bars. Formerly a centre of Jewish life in Berlin, the street contains the restored New Synagogue. Another tourist landmark was the Kunsthaus Tacheles, an alternative art center and night club. Oranienburger Straße is also known for relatively prominent street prostitution, which is legal in Germany.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries this was the main Jewish area of Berlin. There are a number of memorials to the former Jewish residents of the area, including sites of former Jewish schools, orphanages, old people’s homes and cemeteries. All these institutions were closed during the Nazi regime, and the great majority of the area’s Jewish residents were deported to their deaths in extermination camps in occupied Poland.

The most notable building on Oranienburger Straße is the New Synagogue (Neue Synagoge), which at the time of its opening in 1866 was the largest synagogue in Berlin. The synagogue was saved from destruction by the Nazis on Kristallnacht in 1938 by the actions of Otto Bellgardt, a local police officer, later covered up by his superior Wilhelm Krützfeld. It was largely destroyed by Allied bombing in 1943, and most of the ruins were demolished in 1958 by the German Democratic Republic authorities. The restored front section of the synagogue was reopened in 1995 as a Jewish community centre also housing a synagogue and a museum. Since 1671 there is a permanent Jewish population in Berlin, which grew in the 19th and at the beginning of the 20th century up to 173,000 people in 1925. In Nazi Germany, 55,000 Jews were victims of the Holocaust, most of the others fled or were expelled. Only 9,000 Jews survived underground or in marriage with a non-Jewish spouse. In particular, due to the influx of Jews from the successor states of the Soviet Union, the number of Jews in Berlin increased since 1990 again. At the beginning of the 21st century, more than 12,000 Jews live in the city. The Jewish community of Berlin is thus the largest community in Germany. An estimated 10,000 to 15,000 mostly secular Israelis live in Berlin as well.

Monbijou Palace was a Rococo palace located in the present-day Monbijou Park on the north bank of the Spree river across from today’s Bode Museum and within sight of the Hohenzollern city palace. Heavily damaged in World War II, the ruins were finally razed by the communist authorities of East Berlin in 1959. The palace has not been rebuilt.

Oranienburger Straße is home to one of Berlin’s few ghost legends: The ghost wall (‘Gespenstermauer’). According to the legend, one can sometimes see the spirits of two children dash into the street and disappear near Oranienburger Straße 41 (just West of the bar ‘X-terrain, and slightly East and across the street from Tacheles). The identity of the children is unknown, as is the time period in which they supposedly originate (the visions are small and vague and shadowy, apparently usually seen only quickly out of the corner of one’s eye), but legend has it that the child spirits will do small favors in exchange for pennies. The procedure is to stick a penny in the crumbling mortar of the old wall near Oranienburger Straße 41 and make a wish. If the wish is modest (e.g. one that two ghost children could do), and unselfish, then it will supposedly be granted. It is unclear when the legend started, but it was known at least prior to the 1990s, among former residents of East Berlin. An inspection of the wall shows that indeed there are many pennies (and other small denomination coins) pushed into the crumbling mortar. In some versions of the story popular in GDR times, the ghost children grant wishes in return for candy.

Read more on VisitBerlin.de – Going out at Hackescher Markt & Oranienburger Straße, Wikipedia Oranienburger Straße, Stiftung Neue Synagoge Berlin – Centrum Judaicum and Wikipedia New Synagogue.









Hackesche Höfe on Rosenthaler Straße © Soluvo/cc-by-sa-4.0

Hackesche Höfe on Rosenthaler Straße © Soluvo/cc-by-sa-4.0

Hackescher Markt (“Hacke’s Market”) is a square situated at the eastern end of Oranienburger Strasse. It is an important transport hub and a starting point for the city’s nightlife.

Originally a marsh north of the city fortifications on the road to Spandau, the Prussian king Frederick the Great about 1750 had a market square laid out under the surveillance of Townmajor Hans Christoph Friedrich Graf von Hacke in the course of a northern town expansion. It was officially named after Hacke on 23 July 1840. In 1882 the area received access to the Berlin Stadtbahn railway line at Berlin Hackescher Markt station, then called Börse after the nearby stock exchange. The station was renamed Marx-Engels-Platz during the GDR era.

Formerly a rather neglected area, Hackescher Markt with its old buildings has developed into a cultural and commercial centre after German reunification, famous for its nightlife centered on the Hackesche Höfe courtyard ensemble. The square is also served by several tramway and night bus lines. A weekly market is still held every Thursday and Saturday. The Hackesche Höfe is a notable courtyard complex, which consists of eight interconnected courtyards, accessed through a main arched entrance at number 40 Rosenthaler Straße. The complex was designed in the Jugendstil (or Art Nouveau) style by August Endel, and the first courtyard is adorned with a magnificent facade of polychrome glazed brick. The construction of this project, launched in 1906, follows a pattern of clear separation between residential areas, crafts, trade and culture, which distinguishes it from the courtyards of the 19th century. In 1909 Kurt Hiller and Jakob van Hoddis established Der Neue Club here which hosted such events as the literary evenings they called the Neopathetisches Cabaret (Neo-pathetic Cabaret). These proved to be very popular, often attracting hundreds of spectators. There is a plaque commemorating van Hoddis as one of the victims of National Socialism at the Hackesche Höfe.

From the Hackescher Markt, the Rosenthaler Straße runs northwards to the intersection with Torstraße on Rosenthaler Platz, where it merges into Brunnenstraße. The only 510 meters (1700 feet) long road houses numerous listed buildings, among them is the Anne Frank Zentrum. Well-known architects such as Louis Fränkel, Adolf Sommerfeld and Carl Schwatlo were able to realize their building plans in this street in the 19th century. All surviving apartment buildings, town houses and commercial buildings have now been renovated and are listed in the Berlin monument list.

Read more on Wikipedia Hackescher Markt and Wikivoyage Berlin Mitte.





Volksbühne Berlin on Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz © Ansgar Koreng/cc-by-sa-3.0-de

Volksbühne Berlin on Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz © Ansgar Koreng/cc-by-sa-3.0-de

Scheunenviertel (“Barn Quarter”) is situated to the north of the medieval Alt-Berlin area, east of the Rosenthaler Straße and Hackescher Markt. Until the Second World War it was regarded as a slum district and had a substantial Jewish population with a high proportion of migrants from Eastern Europe.

The name derives from several barns erected here outside the city walls in 1672 by order of Elector Frederick William of Brandenburg. The barns were used to store hay for use at a large cattle market at nearby Alexanderplatz. In 1737 King Frederick William I of Prussia required Berlin Jews to settle here. Prior to World War I, the Berlin City Council (Magistrat) redeveloped parts of the area. Since then the core of the neighborhood is the triangular Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, former Bülowplatz, where on 9 August 1931 the Communist and later Stasi Executive Erich Mielke shot two police officers. Mielke fled to Moscow shortly afterwards and did not face trial for the murders until 1992.

Since German reunification the Scheunenviertel, together with the neighbouring Spandauer Vorstadt, has become a fashionable district popular with younger people. The Scheunenviertel is often mistakenly used as a synonym for Berlin’s Jewish quarter as a whole, while Jewish cultural and commercial life was, however, centred on the neighbouring Spandauer Vorstadt, where the New Synagogue and other Jewish establishments are located. Among the sights in Scheunenviertel are:

Read more on LonelyPlanet.com – The charms of Berlin’s Scheunenviertel, BBC, 22 November 2008: New Jewish Life In Berlin, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, 21 December 2012: Berlin offers Jewish tourists more than Holocaust history, Haaretz, 8 April 2014: Epicenter of Holocaust Now Fastest-growing Jewish Community, The Guardian, 10 November 2014: Young Jews see bright future in Berlin but past weighs heavily in Israel, Jewish Journal, 29 September 2016: Modern Orthodox Jewish life blossoms in Berlin, NPR, 24 March 2017: A Food Festival Celebrates The Rebirth Of Jewish Life In Berlin, Washington Post, 1 April 2018: Nazis destroyed this Berlin synagogue. A Muslim politician and a Jewsih leader want to rebuild it, Times of Israel, 24 January 2019: I’m Jewish, American and happy to live in Berlin, NPR, 7 March 2019: Thousands Of Israelis Now Call Berlin Home And Make Their Cultural Mark, VisitBerlin.de – Jewish Berlin: Changeful history – Part of Berlin’s diversity, Berlin’s Jewish Community, GablingerTours.com and Wikipedia Scheunenviertel (Smart Traveler App by U.S. Department of State - Weather report by weather.com - Global Passport Power Rank - Travel Risk Map - Democracy Index - GDP according to IMF, UN, and World Bank - Global Competitiveness Report - Corruption Perceptions Index - Press Freedom Index - World Justice Project - Rule of Law Index - UN Human Development Index - Global Peace Index - Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index). Photos by Wikimedia Commons. If you have a suggestion, critique, review or comment to this blog entry, we are looking forward to receive your e-mail at comment@wingsch.net. Please name the headline of the blog post to which your e-mail refers to in the subject line.




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