Day 1: Getting oriented

There s a heat wave in Europe, and man was it brutal in Berlin on the first day of my trip. I arrived 12 hours late after a flight delay that left me overnight in Copenhagen. My digs in Berlin are in a lovely apartment in Halensee in the western part of the city, courtesy of family friends who are in the U.S. this month. From here, I have easy access to transit to all locations around the German capital city.

My so-so German skills helped me with the transit systems and signage, but I was all but unable to communicate verbally because the sentences formed too slowly. Finally, at the end of the day in a checkout line at a market, I realized that I did not have a shopping bag like everyone else. The words came together as the cashier rang up my items. “Ich habe keine Tasche,” I said, and she reached under the counter to give me a paper bag. Success!

The main stop on my orientation tour of the Scheunenviertal and Mitte Berlin was at the Neue Synagogue on Oranienburger Straße, not to see the exhibition but to find out about archive access. The Zentrum Judaicum, quartered in the old building, holds the archives from the Berlin Jewish Community, including the records of Weißensee Cemetery. I wasn’t surprised that I was not able to get in on my unannounced visit, but received an information sheet with contact information for the archivist. I sent her an email hoping to make an appointment for next week. We’ll see.

I also had limited success in acquiring a copy of Berliner Konfektion and Mode, the history of the German Jewish garment industry in the 1920s and 30s by Uwe Westphal. Apparently it is a pretty obscure title. After striking out a several bookstores, including a very hip place just three doors down from Hermann’s import-export company offices on Alte Schönhauser Allee, I wrote a message to the author directly via the contact page on his website. He continues to be very involved in uncovering the history of Nazi expropriations, so I hope he will be interested to learn about Hermann Ringel. Let’s see how that works out. 

Other than that, I visited Jewish sites in the Scheunenviertal, including of course the Alte Judische Friedhof where Moses Mendelsohn is buried. There are a dozen or so ancient headstones lined up against the wall but mst of the property is overgrown with weeds, the graveyard having been demolished by the Nazis. I tried out my camera setup there and some other locations with respectable results. Mainly I shot videos but the photo here is a shot of a memorial sculpture outside the wall of the old cemetery.

I also walked to the Hausvogteiplatz, where Westphal says was the center of the Garment business though there are few signs left of that today. Then I trekked to Potsdamerplatz and all the way to the Zoo Station before taking the bus down Kufürstendamm to Halensee. I was hot, exhausted and ready for my big “Ihave no bag” moment.

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