On the first sunny day in November, which happened to be a Friday, Walter & I set out on our next adventure. We decided to go to the Spandauer Vorstadt, which used to be Berlin’s Jewish quarter. It is the site of the Neue Synagogue, a large synagogue built for Berlin’s pre-war Jewish community and, of course, destroyed during the Nazi era. It has been restored in a very fascinating way and now serves as a Jewish community centre and as a small museum.
The building is fantastic, as it is built in a mozarabique style – an artistic style I happen to be quite fond of. The dome of the synagogue has been completely restored so the building beautifully dominates its surroundings. As a sad testimony to continuing tensions between the Jewish community and certain individuals, there is a heavy police presence outside the synagogue and we had to pass through airport-style security in order to get in. Walter was exempt from the checks but his bottle of milk was not!
Photographs of the interior aren’t permitted, so you’ll have to take my word on how excellent of an exhibition it is. The interior has been restored to a hint of its former glory by only using what could be salvaged from the rubble. It has been done in such a fascinating way that one gets an idea of its beauty while seeing just how much was destroyed. For example, where pieces of stained glass have been recovered they’ve been inserted into the windows, while the rest of the window will just be plain glass. A restoration like this could go quite wrong, but the salvaged pieces are allowed to shine and the rebuilt structure is a very quiet backdrop. Walter really enjoyed our tour, because the ceiling still retains some of its original floral & geometric painting, so there was a lot for him to look. He also enjoyed the large black & white photograph of the original interior of the synagogue.
The museum covers both the history of the synagogue and the history of Jewish life in the district. In its setting which so eloquently depicts the level of destruction which the Jewish community underwent it is a very effective memorial to the holocaust and the persecution of the Jews. I found it much more poignant than any new statue, complete restoration, or complete ruin would have been.
After viewing the synagogue we both agreed that it was time for lunch. Following a suggestion in my guidebook, we decided to take in the tastes at Dada Falaffel. It was a great choice – as soon as the manager saw me queuing outside with a baby he bustled me into the busy cafe and found a seat for us. To maximize space there are special chairs that fit onto the unused flight of stairs at the back of the cafe (it is a wide flight, like you find in museums). I took the lowest seat and was able to park Walter’s pram in front of me. It was ideal. Being a Friday I ordered the falaffel sandwich and it was superb, and also a lot healthier than the excellent falaffel we get in our neighbourhood. A wrap filled with salad, yogurt, and the most delicious freshly made falaffel I’ve had – crunchy on the outside, well-spiced and soft on the inside. For those who don’t know, which I guess is possible, falaffel is a spiced chickpea purée that is formed into a ball or disc shape and then deep-fried.
After lunch Walter & I trekked to a special joint-cemetery, the Französicher Friedhof & the Dortheenstädtische Friedhof. The former is the city’s oldest Huguenot graveyard, whilst the latter is the resting place of many of Berlin’s more famous residents, like Brecht. It was a beautiful place for an afternoon stroll, as the ground was carpeted with the autumn leaves and many of the graves are covered in ivy. We kept seeing black cats playing amongst the tombstones and were careful to not let them cross our path.
|Note the kitty!|
|I actually really like these bare-bones headstones. The Brechts' weren't the only ones like this.|
When we finished our wander we left the quiet of the graveyard to head towards the Berlin Wall Memorial in Nordbahnhof. In this area the wall was built on the grounds of a graveyard, and the graves had to be moved. Before all the graves were moved some people tried to leap over the wall by standing on some of the taller tombstones. Now the site shows excavations several feet into the earth, where the original lines of the graves can be seen, as well as a large pictorial monument commemorating the “victims of the wall”, namely those who perished in trying to cross it. As David keeps saying, it is strange to think that while we were still children this giant wall divided the whole city in two. The height of the wall is something I have thought much about it, because it is just tall enough to prevent one from jumping over it (although you could easily climb it now if you had a rope) and from seeing what’s on the immediate other side. But of course you can see tall buildings, and as you back away from it you can see what lies on the other side. It must have been so strange to have hints of “the other” Berlin without being able to actually see it.
Dusk was quickly turning to dark by the time we left the wall. We walked in the direction of Große Hamburger Straße to view more of the old Jewish quarter. But I dislike being out with Walter in the dark, especially in strange cities, so we didn’t linger for too long. It is an area with a mixture of holocaust memorials and modern shops, but there was nothing seemed particularly special when compared with what we had already seen that day.
|A creepy building which we passed on our way to the train station|