Berlin Long Reads | From Mendelssohn to Benjamin: The Legacy of Jewish Intellectuals in Berlin

The Neue Synagoge in Berlin Mitte
The Neue Synagoge in Berlin Mitte

In the third installment of our Berlin Long Reads series, guide and member Ronen Altman Kaydar examines the role Berlin’s Jewish minority played in establishing the city as an intellectual centre.

At first glance, Berlin doesn’t seem a likely hub for either Jews or intellectuals.

It is far removed from the historical center of German Jewish learning (the towns of Speyer, Mainz and Wörms in Western Germany, where the Ashkenazi tradition developed in the 11th and 12th centuries) and didn’t harbour a stable Jewish community in the Middle Ages or the early Modern Age. Moreover, it has a much shorter history than most major European cities (as Berlin only started to make its mark as a settlement of any real significance back in the mid-13th Century) and lacks any early scholarly heritage, as its first university was founded only in 1810.

Nevertheless, Berlin did become a major intellectual center through the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries (at times nicknamed the “Athens on the Spree” to symbolize this intellectual renaissance), and the Jewish population played an essential part in the process. In this article, I will explore the roots of this fascinating turn of events and follow its developments through the centuries.

Beginnings: Mendelssohn and the Haskala (1743-1786)

Moses Mendelssohn
Moses Mendelssohn

To tell the story of modern Jewish intellectual thought, whether in Berlin or elsewhere, you have to start with the man who first opened the doors of German Jewish society to general learning and knowledge – Moses Mendelssohn. But Mendelssohn could not have made the transition from his traditional upbringing in rural Dessau to his more universal philosophical views without the opportunities afforded to him in the city of Berlin.

When Mendelssohn entered Berlin in the autumn of 1743, it was already on its way to becoming a political and economic powerhouse as the capital of the emerging power of Prussia, ruled by King Frederick the Second – soon to be known as “Frederick the Great”. Moreover, the city’s small Jewish community was particularly affluent, because when Jews were invited into Berlin from Vienna in 1671, only the 50 richest families were included – with the express purpose of utilizing their wealth to kickstart the local economy after the Thirty Year War (1618-48). These Schutzjuden (literally “protected Jews”) were bankers, traders and entrepreneurs, who supported the royal court (either by tending to its economic needs or through taxation) and were rewarded with a royal decree of protection. This protection, as well as the very right to live in Berlin, was extended to Jews fulfilling a few important inner-community functions (such as the Rabbi, the Cantor etc.), as well as to a few Rabbinical students under the auspices of the Rabbi.

It was this last provision that enabled Mendelssohn, who grew up in an impoverished, devout Jewish family, to enter the city for a period of study with David Fraenkel, his former mentor and the current community Rabbi. At the age of 14, when he was invited to the city, Mendelssohn was already considered an Iluy (a Talmudic Prodigy) with a great future in the Rabbinical world – but the young man had other things in mind. Despite the strong opposition of his teachers, who considered such learning sacriligious, Mendelssohn secretly managed to teach himself Latin and proper German1 and to read historical and philosophical works in these languages. As he graduated at the age of 21, Mendelssohn chose not to pursue a Rabbinical career, but rather to become a philosopher.

The 1750s in Berlin were an opportune time for Mendelssohn’s choice: the Enlightenment movement – which prized the sovereignty of rational thought as the primary source of knowledge – was gaining traction in Prussia, spurred by Frederick the Great’s adoption of its key ideas and the invitation of Voltaire, a proponent of the movement, to the royal court. And while Frederick’s court mostly upheld French as the languge of the Enlightenment, more and more authors and thinkers in Prussia explored these new ideas in their native German. Two of them – the writer and dramatist Gotthold Ephraim Lessing and the publisher Friedrich Nikolai – met Mendelssohn in Berlin and reveled at the achievement of this self-taught Jewish thinker. They would assist him in him in his transition from young prodigy to published philosopher. Mendelssohn’s brilliant works quickly gained notoriety with literate elites, winning him accolades and attracting attention to this never-seen-before phenomenon – the Jewish philosopher.

It is from this respectable position that Mendelssohn made an overture which would forever set him apart as a trailblazer, for the Jewish community in Berlin and elsewhere. Starting in the 1770s, he urged his Jewish brethren to follow him into the Age of Enlightenment – to seek secular education, to replace outdated Rabbinical authority with the rule of reason and to integrate into cultured German society by learning its language and manners. Despite vehement opposition from Rabbinical and traditional ranks, almost up to the point of excommunication, Mendelssohn’s ideas quickly took hold among affluent Jews in Central Europe, and Berlin, specifically, became a center for this new Jewish Enlightenment, later known as the Haskala (Hebrew for ‘education’).

The next generation: Berlin’s “Salon Women” (1786-1803)

Jägerstgrasse in Berlin in the 1800s: including Rachel Levin's house (second from right)
Jägerstrasse in Berlin in the 1800s: including Rachel Levin’s house (second from right)

Following Mendelssohn’s lead, Berlin’s affluent Jewish families approached secular education with the same zeal formerly reserved for the study of the Torah. They saw the ideal of education, knowledge and culture (summarized by the German term Bildung) as their offsprings’ ticket to becoming equal members of society. There was, however, one major difference between traditional Torah study and these new educational goals: following the ideas of gender equality fostered by Enlightenment thinkers, secular education was extended not only to the young men of the Jewish upper middle class, but to young women as well2.

However, as these women came of age in the last decades of the 18th Century, they faced a world which was frustratingly unprepared to accept them. While their male counterparts could publish their works in respected journals or study in the few universities which accepted Jews, Jewish women had to settle for the life expected of them – finding a respectable match and playing the roles of a charming hostess, wife, and mother. Faced with this squandering of their intellectual talents, a handful of these women found a brilliant solution: instead of going out into the world, they invited the world into their homes, first participating in intellectual salons hosted by their husbands and then starting their own. Based on the ideals of the Enlightenment, these salons were open to anyone who was interested in literary and intellectual conversation – men and women, Jews and non-Jews, nobles and bankrupt poets alike.

Soon enough, several of these salons eclipsed their male-hosted counterparts and became a celebrated feature of Berlin’s intellectual scene. Due to their policy of openness and acceptance, the Jewish women’s salons afforded young artists and writers a welcome respite from the emptiness of the social world of Prussia, dominated at that time (under the rule of King Frederick William II) by lavish hunting parties and ceremonies. No less important were the vivacious personalities of these hostesses, who imbued the gatherings with a dynamic, lighthearted atmosphere, sometimes even bordering on the flirtatious. The salons of Dorothea Mendelssohn (the philosopher’s daughter, known for her bright mind and sharp tongue) and Henriette Herz (a stunning beauty married to a medical doctor 17 years her senior) attracted the likes of poet Friedrich Schlegel, sculptor J.G. Schadow (creator of the Quadriga on the Brandenburg Gate), the Humboldt brothers, and many more. Their rise put Berlin firmly on the intellectual map of Europe, prompting visitors from Amsterdam and Paris to similarly support the integration of Jews and Christian in a single cultural milieu.

First and foremost among the salon women was Rachel Levin, whose prominent position might seem surprising, considering that she was neither affluent nor beautiful. Yet poets, romantics and nobles were drawn to the attic room of this jewel-trader’s daughter because of her personality, intelligence and eloquence, which impressed even Goethe himself. Though not a “writer” in the common sense of the word (she never wrote a novel or any comparable work), she penned over 10,000 letters, including several correspondences on prevalent literary matters of the time which were published in periodicals to great renown.

Alas, the liberal and intellectual haven of the Berlin salons could not last forever, and by the early 1800s they slowly wound down, their demise precipitated both by an internal process and an external threat. On the one hand, the charming hostesses gradually drifted away from their Jewish heritage and upbringing; one by one, they allowed flirtatious conversations to become heated love affairs with Christian intellectuals, usually leading to marriage and a subsequent conversion to Christianity. Meanwhile, the rise of Napoleon in France and Prussia’s mobilization against him spurred nationalist and patriotic sentiments, overshadowing the salons’ literary, humanistic and liberal agenda. By the end of the Napoleonic Wars, these “miniscule utopias” were a thing of the past – but their legacy remained ensconsed in the minds of Berliners, Jews and Christians alike.

Intellectuals and Emancipation: German, Jewish or both? (1803-1871)

The Singakademie building in 1843
The Singakademie building in 1843

While Napoleon’s march across Europe brought an end to the salon period in Berlin, it also paved the way towards a greater acceptance of Jews in society. Prussia’s military defeat in 1806 led to much-needed reforms; inspired by the rational ideals of the Enlightenment and the egalitarian ethos of the French Revolution (incidentally, spread by Napoleon and his men). One of these reforms, the 1812 Edict of Emancipation, gave Jews most of the civil rights afforded to every citizen of Prussia, including the right to attend universities and hold positions in them. Although most of this edict’s provisions were revoked during the Restoration period (from 1819 onward), Jews retained their foothold in German intellectual discourse and the subject of their emancipation remained an important point of discussion throughout the 19th Century.

However, the dashed hopes of the Napoleonic period left the numerous Jewish graduates of Berlin’s newly established university in a precarious position: they had very little prospect of a career in academia, civil service or the legal system. Finding no place in the established order, some turned to writing and publishing scholarly books and articles (like jurist Eduard Gans, who came from a wealthy family), while others found work within the community (like Leopold Zunz, a scholar of Jewish history and culture, who worked as a teacher and narrator of the Torah). The contrast between the breadth of their education and the limited possibilities afforded to them, however, drove many Jews during this period to the same escape route already taken by the salon women – conversion to Christianity.

The rationale behind this choice was aptly layed out by banker Abraham Mendelssohn, Moses Mendelssohn’s son, who baptised his children in 1816 and converted in 1822. Abraham Mendelssohn originally planned to bring up his children according to the ideals of the Enlightenment and the moral principles common to the three Abrahamic religions, eventually letting them choose their own religious path. But burgeoning nationalistic sentiments and the reversion of the trend toward emancipation in the post-Napoleonic era forced him to make the decision for them. In choosing “the religion of the majority” he gave his children the advantage of a level playing field within the cultured society of Berlin – an opportunity seized upon by his son Felix, who not only enjoyed a brilliant musical career but also uncovered and reinterpreted one of the highlights of Christian classical music, Bach’s Matheus Passion. The 1829 premiere of the new-fangled Passion in Berlin’s brand-new Singakademie hall was attended by a veritable who’s-who of cultured society, including the King himself, symbolizing Felix Mendelssohn’s ultimate acceptance into Prussia’s cultural canon.

But while many Jews made the practical choice of giving up their heritage for a much improved position in Berlin’s intellectual circles, others looked in, seeking to reform and recreate their religious identity according to newfound intellectual principles. One of the harbingers of this direction was the aforementioned Leopold Zunz, who fostered a new form of Judaism in which the Talmud played the role of a sentimental historical symbol rather than an absolute authority. Zunz, however, lacked the charisma to lead the necessary changes himself; instead, it was the Frankfurt-born scholar Abraham Geiger, later the first Rabbi at the Neue Synagoge in Berlin, who not only believed that Judaism must be radically transformed if it were to survive modernity, but also took the first step toward such a transformation, hosting a conference of reform-minded young Rabbis in Wiesbaden in 1837. Geiger surmised that the real power of Judaism lies in its capacity for self-reflection, which enables it to adapt to changing circumstances; he argued against any limitation on objective research into Jewish Theology and in 1872 established an Academy of Jewish Studies in Berlin, reinforcing the city’s status as a Jewish intellectual center.

It is important to note that the establishment of Geiger’s academy followed a relatively long period, in the early and mid 19th Century, in which Jews found themselves outside Berlin’s main intellectual circles. The royal court of Frederick William IV took an active interest in the city’s intellectual legacy, from the university to the newly-established Museum Island, leaving less room for informal circles (such as the earlier salons) where Jews could make their mark3. Furthermore, the long struggle for emancipation drove Jewish intellectuals to promote a united, democratic Germany with equal rights for all, marking them as anti-establishment figures. Young poet Heinrich Heine, for instance, won great praise as a student in Berlin, but due to his liberal views was unable to attain a position within the establishment – even after he converted to Christianity.

In 1848, Jewish students and intellectuals would be strongly represented among the protestors leading the waves of revolts known as The Spring of Nations. Among them were Leopold Zunz and the younger Aaron Bernstein, a self-taught author who came to Berlin from Danzig and was active as a democratic writer, as well as a founding member of Berlin’s reformist Jewish community. The failure of the revolt, however, impeded the emancipation process and restricted the ability of Jewish intellectuals to be what they most wanted – Jewish and German at the same time. Only in 1871, when Germany finally unified, was Prussia forced to accept the emancipation laws already passed in the smaller, more liberal states, and the Golden Age of Jewish culture in Berlin was set to begin.

Between Patriotism and Revolution : The Wilhelmine period (1871-1919)

Max Liebermann's villa on the outskirts of Berlin
Max Liebermann’s villa on the outskirts of Berlin

By 1871, Jewish thinkers in Berlin were finally poised to take their rightful place among the city’s elites. They were affluent, highly educated, and eager to seize the opportunities provided by the city’s new status as the capital of an ambitious German empire. Yet it was this very sense of ‘empire’ (Reich in German), backed by Bismarck’s “Blood and Iron” rhetoric, which presented them with a new complication: how could they prove themselves worthy Germans, enthusiastically participating in the creaton of their new nation, without setting aside the liberal agenda which brought them there? In other words, how loyal could they be to a Germany that was still led by a Kaiser and an Iron Chancellor?

One solution to this dilemma was to set up new forms of social organization, devoted to bringing change without destablizing the system. This was the path chosen by Lina Morgenstern, a writer and educator who focused on fields of social study commonly neglected by men. This energetic woman established the first kindergartens in Berlin, the first school for kindergarten teachers, an international conference on women’s work, and a chain of soup kitchens. First for war veterans and then for the general population, these kitchens in particular earned her popular respect and the nickname Suppenlina. Morgenstern’s activism in welfare, education and women’s rights opened the door to other female Jewish thinkers in similar fields, including Alice Salomon, who pioneered the idea of social work as an academic discipline, and Henriette May, co-founder of the League of German Women.

May was also a founding member of another new organization, which sought to balance loyalty and Jewish activism: The Central Association of German Citizens of the Jewish Faith, or Central-Verein. Founded by a group of intellectuals in 1893, it was the first attempt at a representative Jewish political body in Germany. The founders, headed by medical doctor Martin Mendelssohn4, believed such a body was necessary because emancipation had not brought an end to antisemitism and discrimination – yet took great care to define themselves first and foremost as loyal German citizens.

This patriotic stance, proudly displayed by Jewish elites, ultimately culminated in their near-unanimous support for Germany’s involvement in WWI. In fact, some Jewish scientists and academics were instrumental in the war effort, among them chemist Fritz Haber, who developed poison gas capsules for the German army, and physicist-turned-politician Walter Rathenau, who headed the War Raw Materials Department and supervised logistical support for the empire’s military machine. Together with the rest of mainstream German society, most Jewish intellectuals were swept away in the patriotic current, unable to walk the line between liberalism and patriotism, as they have done before.

Yet not all Jews fell into the trap of German patriotism. From the German Reich’s outset, there were some who saw Jewish emancipation only as a stepping stone towards greater social good. One of them was Gustav Landauer,  a leading theorist of anarchism in Germany, who studied history and philosophy in Berlin. Landauer believed that Jews have a special historical destiny, a mission to affect revolutionary social change through interpersonal relations with the people around them. For him, ongoing social revolution attained a mystical quality, becoming a goal which no acquired patriotism could eclipse. The same commitment to ongoing revolution and anarchic-democratic communism can also be seen in the writings of Rosa Luxemburg, who led the left-wing opposition to WWI in Berlin and co-founded the Communist Party of Germany. Their hopes for radical change led, unfortunately, to a bitter end: Both Landauer and Luxemburg were executed by right-wing militias in the aftermath of the WWI.

Not surprisingly, the same tensions between conservative and revolutionary tendencies were also manifest in Berlin’s cultural spheres. Jewish artists and collectors were among the pillars of an emergent German cultural establishment, while also working to change the system from within. One prime example is affluent painter and collector, Max Liebermann, whose early work broke artistic and social conventions by accepting poor factory workers in as an apt subject for painting, leading the way into the modern era and ultimately becoming the new establishment (he became the head of the Academy of Arts). This same function, in a way the cultural equivalent of the political balance between social change and patriotism, is also evident in the role which Jewish art collectors played in acquiring impressionist paintings for the Alte National Galerie on Museum Island. The Museum’s curator, Hugo von Tschudi, circumvented the more conservative Prussian purchasing board by asking wealthy, liberal Jews to acquire impressionist paintings and donate them to the collection rather than giving money upfront; in doing so, these Jews served as agents of change – but within the system itself.

A different split could be observed at the same period with the Jewish literary community, one that ran along the line of the same German-Jewish divide which the Central-Verein sought to bridge. While most Jewish authors in Berlin since the Haskala took pride in writing eloquent German prose, by the turn of the 20th Century there was already enough room within the community for those who wrote Hebrew, or even – God forbid – Yiddish. The Café Monopol, a popular literary café opposite Friedrichstrasse station, had by 1908 a separate Stammtisch (‘regular table’) for Hebrew-language authors (like Micha Josef Berdyczewski, whose poignant descriptions of Jewish Shtetls in Russia won critical acclaim, and Itamar Ben-Avi, Ben Yehuda’s son, who came to Berlin as a student), alongside the numerous “German tables” and one “Yiddish table”. The latter was frequently visited by luminaries such as Sholem Asch and Sholem Aleichem, who both came to Berlin in hope of seeing their plays performed on the German stage.

Outside bourgeois society, Jews were also active in the avantgarde circles which experimented with new and exciting styles in the fields of poetry and theater. One such example is Austrian-born Max Reinhardt, who in 1901 founded Schall und Rauch (“Sound and Smoke”), one of the first cabaret stages in Berlin and a harbinger of the Weimar cabaret style5. Jews were also prevalent in Berlin’s budding expressionist movement, which came together to read their works in improptu literary events at Berlin’s Hackesche Höfe. In 1909, two Jewish members of this group – innovative poet Jakob van Hoddis and gay essayist Kurt Hiller – formed a new literary club, simply named Der Neue Club. A key member of this club, who later achieved fame on her own, was Elsa Lasker-Schüler, known for her unique poetic genius as well as her bohemian, unrestrained lifestyle (extremely uncommon among women at the time).

These divergent thinkers were, however, the exception rather than the rule. Most Jewish intellectuals of the period were deeply entrenched within mainstream German society, upholding the prevailing order and following the dominant Social Democratic Party (SPD) in its support for WWI. Ironically, it was the devastation caused by this very war which brought a sudden end to the ‘good old days’ of the German Empire and set the stage for the final chapter of our story.

So much to do, so little time: The hectic Weimar years (1919-1933)

The main room of the Romanisches Cafe
The main room of the Romanisches Cafe

It is hard to overstate the effect of WWI and the subsequent economic depression on the city of Berlin. Young people who survived those turbulent times rightfully blamed the political and social establishment for its lies and misdirections, thus losing all respect for the authority of their elders. Glad to be alive, young Berliners plunged into the 1920s with an animalistic desire for anything new and exciting, wherever it may lead. Jewish academics, writers and artists, who’d always kept an eye out for change, were drawn to the forefront of these novel ventures, furthering the rapid expansion of the cultural and scholarly spheres.

One of the more conventional avenues taken by Jewish academics in this new world was the study of science. Albert Einstein, already a renowned physicist when he came to Berlin in 1918, encouraged young Jewish students to pursue a scientific career, claiming that in the fact-based hard sciences there’s no room for antisemitic discrimination. This assertion was, however, mistaken: most established scientific faculties in Germany were old-fashioned and rife with prejudices, allowing only Jews with extrodinary talents to advance. As a result, Jews flocked to newly-discovered or interdisciplanary fields, where no traditional authority existed, making them much more likely to stumble upon groundbreaking research and the recognition which came with it: for instance, 9 out of the 27 nobel laureates who studied at the University of Berlin before 1933 were Jewish, including chemist Fritz Haber, biologist Paul Ehrlich and physicists Gustav Hertz and James Franck. Another Berlin educated Jewish Physicist, Lise Meitner (“The Jewish Marie Curie”, as Einstein called her), should have received the prize with her partner Otto Hahn for their work on nuclear fission, but was probably snubbed because of the committee’s chauvinistic predilictions.

As Jewish scientists propagated in Berlin’s labs and universities, Jewish writers congregated in the literary cafes which sprung up everywhere. The Romanisches Café6 on the Ku’damm, Berlin’s top literary scene at the time, was frequented by Jewish cultural figures such as Elsa Lasker-Schüler, novelist Alfred Döblin (Berlin, Alexanderplatz) and scriptwriter Salomon Wilder (who later changed his name to Billy Wilder), sitting side by side with non-Jewish ‘celebrities’ like Brecht, Otto Dix, George Grosz and Erich Maria Remarque. Such close contact between Jews and non-Jews, formerly subject to curiosity or disdain, had by this point become a ‘non-issue’ in Berlin; yet rising nationalistic sentiments, which reintroduced old antisemitism by conflating Jews with the growing threat of communism, made the literary cafes frequented by left-leaning cultural figures an obvious target. The Romanisches Café, specifically, was vandalized during a Nazi riot in 1927 and supervised by the Gestapo once the Nazis came to power.

While these Jewish writers reflected the eclectic nature of the Weimar years in their divergent styles and subjects, one could still note a tendency towards social commentary and critique, particulary in the form of satire. Politically engaged journalist Kurt Tucholsky, a self-described “left-wing pacifistic democrat” quickly became one of the most vocal critics of the Weimar republic and repeatedly warned against its anti-democratic tendencies, while young poet Mascha Kaleko published lighthearted verses which poignantly pointed out the ironies of everyday life, merging Jewish black humor and the free spirit of Weimar Berlin into a best-selling combination. Others, not content with standing on the sidelines, picked up the legacy of Jewish social activism; most notable among those was Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld, who advanced our knowledge of human sexuality and picked up the mantel of gay rights, leading Germany to the verge of becoming the first nation in the world to legalize homosexuality.

Berlin’s status as a burgeoning center of Jewish thought is also evident in the sheer mass of scholars and writers who decided to spend a year or two in the German capital. These included, among many others, novelist Shmuel Yosef Agnon (in 1913-1918), later a nobel laureate; Israeli national-poet-to-be Hayim Nahman Bialik (1921-22); modernist author Uri Zvi Greenberg (1923); epic poet Shaul Tchernichovsky (in 1922-25); and future Lubavitcher Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1928-33). This constant coming-and-going of erudite young Jews contributed, in turn, to Berlin’s reputation as the “place to be” for Jewish intellectuals in the Weimar Era.

The everchanging, interdisciplinary character of this cultural center is best personified by one of the brightest thinkers of the period, Walter Benjamin. A born-and-bred Berliner, Benjamin was a regular of the city’s literary cafes, which he termed “the headquarters of Bohemia”, while also publishing innovative articles on philosophy, literature and art. In line with the iconoclastic attitude of 1920s Berlin, his eclectic worldview combined the Marxist concept of historical materialism with newfangled forms of Jewish mysticism7. In fewer than 10 years, Benjamin covered such diverse fields as aesthetic theory, literary criticism and the history of Paris, embodying the hectic spirit of the Jewish intellectuals relentlessly striving to break new ground – as if they somehow knew that the clock was already ticking down for them.

Afterword: Leaving it all behind

Walter Benjamin left Berlin in 1932, settling in Paris. In 1940, as the Nazis approached the city, he escaped to the south of France, planning to reach the US through neutral Portugal. But when his group’s application for safe passage through Spain was rejected, and they were threatened with deportation to France, he committed suicide on September 26th, 1940.

Benjamin was one of the few Jewish scholars and writers from Berlin who lost their lives to Nazi persecution – most of them eventually took advantage of their worldly contacts to find safe haven elsewhere: Einstein found refuge in Princeton, Meitner fled to Sweden and Lasker-Schüler recreated her Bohemian circle in Jerusalem. Yet for many of them, especially those who dealt with words and ideas, leaving Germany meant losing their intellectual homeland – a devastating loss of a formative part of their identity. Mascha Kaleko’s immigration to New York cut short her budding literary career and left her with a sense of disloaction, never to be remedied; and Kurt Tucholsky, exiled and weakened by illness, most probably took his own life in Sweden in 1935, at the age of 45.

With the abrupt termination of these promising careers, and the dispersion of others through the world, came a brutal end to the academic and intellectual Jewish center in Berlin, which had endured since Mendelssohn’s first circle in the mid 18th Century. It is my hope, that recent concentration of Israeli and Jewish authors and scholars in the city will allow Berlin once more to emerge as a city of Haskala – Jewish education, enlightenment and rational thought.

1 Rabbinical students at the time mosly spoke Judendeutsch, an early form of Yiddish

2 It might be worthy to note that this education was informal, relying on private tutors who came into the family hone, rather than formal; the first Englightenment-inspired Jewish school in Berlin, established in 1778, did not accept women in its ranks.

3 The system, however, did reward a few converted Jews, such as Eduard Gans (who became a professor in the university), composer Felix Mendelssohn and even Rachel Levin, who married Goethe’s biographer, converted to Christianity and reopened her salon.

4 Unrelated to Moses and Felix Mendelssohn, as far as we know.

5 Reinhardt would later turn a bit more mainstream, as the manager of the Deutsches Theater and a patron of Berthold Brecht

6 John Hoexter, a young Jewish writer who was always short of money, jokingly nicknamed it Rachmonisches Café (from Rachamim, meaning mercy in Hebrew), because of the multitude of Jewish writers whom he would beg to read his work (or at least invite him in for coffee)

7 partly inspired by his good friend, Kaballah researcher Gershom Sholem, who grew up in Berlin but left it for Munich and Israel.

This piece was contributed by Berlin Guides Association member, Ronen Altman Kaydar.