Muswell Hill Synagogue
Shabbat Shemot 8/9 January 3.55pm 5.05pm

Muswell Hill Berlin Trip 2019

Below, I am publishing my Facebook diary for our wonderful Synagogue Berlin trip – look out for any announcements of future trips!

Day 1 of our Community trip to Berlin with Aubrey Hersh. First stop the Berlin Wall Museum. I am used to taking tours to Poland, where we see and memorialize where the Nazi exterminations mostly took place. But the orchestration happened here in Berlin. The walls I see in Poland are ghetto walls, to imprison a marked out population. Here, the wall was built by East German authorities to prevent its population from joining their brethren in West German effectively dividing between people of pretty much one ethnic group. We saw a stretch where 2 walls were laid, with a space in between.

The wall fell on Nov 9 and 10 1989 which was actually the date of Kristalnacht in 1938…which meant that the German govt could not commemorate the reunification on that date.

Berlin Stop 2. Bundestag, a quite brilliant combination of the late 19th century Reichstag facade and 4 towers (representing the 4 domains of United Germany of Saxony, Wurtemberg, Bavaria and Prussia) with a modern dome structure sitting above the modern day Bundestag. A circular path around the dome takes you up and an audio guide described the landmarks of Berlin. Great tour of what is a quite fascinating city with such deep cultural institutions.
What I realised is important to note is that Germany is a young democracy…it’s first experiment was after WW1 with the Weimar Republic and this attempt could not quell the democratic dissenters after the Treaty of Versailles and had such an open system that there was little parliamentary stability. I am reading Yasha Mounk’s book ‘The People vs Democracy’ where he goes to great lengths to explain how a democratic path is not an inevitable one and liberal democracy is decoupling into democracy without rights or reduced democracy which ensures rights for some.

Stop 3 of our Berlin trip yesterday evening was the Jewish Museum, designed by Daniel Liebskind. The underground floor is designed as 3 corridors called ‘axes’ of Holocaust, Exile and Continuity. The corridors were sloped and at each corner was an empty space vertically spanning the four floors of the Musuem. Liebskind called these ‘ void voids’. A most post modern approach to memory offering the participant a chance to interpret and come with their understanding. Few exhibits. The concept of exile is usually connected to the idea of diaspora…here it relates to exile from Europe before the Holocaust. After all, Europe was the centre of Jewish life before the Shoah.

Today was the second day of our 2 day Berlin trip. We visited the Bavarian quarter of Berlin where Jewish life was curtailed and restricted in WW2. But what was memorable today was visiting the old resort village of Wannsee, now part of Greater Berlin. At a villa here (picture attached), 12 educated men gathered to hear the directives of Reynhard Heydrich on the Final Solution of the Jewish people under German control. 12 men smoked cigars and drank cognac while toying with the fate of 11 million Jews. In the minutes of the meeting are listed 11 millions Jews left in Europe…including those of Britain.
These men heard how emigration had not worked and was too costly for the Reich…so now east and west needed to be combed of its Jews. Wannsee…a place we may never have known about….like Oswiecim, Chelmno, and others. Such a dark place. I have been to places of extermination in Poland, Lithuania and Latvia….but to be where the fate of so many people, my people, was decided, was so difficult. The villa today houses a great exhibit on the history of antisemitism leading up to the Holocaust and then a description of the meeting and why it happened.

What a great trip to Berlin, lead by the amazing Aubrey Hersh and with a wonderful group of people. We finished off yesterday by viewing the beauty of the Shul in Oranienburg Strasse as well as that of the Brandenburg Gate….if the horses face you, you are in West Berlin….hope I got that one right. An intense 2 days of learning and experience. But so worth it. And massive thanks to Nomi at the US for planning.

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