Charlotte's Web

Charlotte Otter – novelist, feminist, crime writer

Berlin’s Ghosts

4 Comments

As a follow-up to my last post, you could read this superb article from today’s Guardian on Jewish visitors to Berlin. I found it very moving. Here’s a brief extract:

I can understand why lots of Jews will never come here. You can see why, for many, it would be too painful to spend time or money in a place that hatched the crime of the century, an attempt to wipe out an entire race, and that has now become Europe’s top party town. But for all the attractions of the contemporary city – the bars, the clubs, the galleries – Berlin is a city full of ghosts.

Jews have lived here since the city was founded in the 13th century. During the Middle Ages they were driven out four times – and four times, they returned. The community finally found a secure foothold in 1671, when the Prussian Emperor invited rich Viennese Jews to settle here, to help restore the city after the Thirty Years War. During the next 250 years, Jews played a leading role in Berlin’s cultural and economic transformation, from provincial capital to metropolis. Jews founded the Berliner Tageblatt, Berlin’s leading newspaper, and KaDeWe, Berlin’s top department store. During the Weimar Republic, Berlin was a hotbed of Jewish commerce and creativity, the New York of its day, and then … Well, we know what happened then.

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Author: charlotteotter

Novelist, feminist, crime writer

4 thoughts on “Berlin’s Ghosts

  1. Charlotte, thanks for posting this. Strangely enough, I was at a reading last night with a South African couple. It was a reading by a young American writer who was a child refugee from Ethiopia and of course, about being a refugee, about accepting and living within a new life, and so on. In the general conversation, his views on being an alien within his country were discussed, and my views as the child of a refugee and survivor. In the conversation, I was told that I had a chip on my shoulder and that he did not, while living a life where his homeland is disappearing. My response pointed out a view of these thoughts and also that his life, as a white South African male who now needs to consider whether to return (and who has a European passport and is fluent in that language) is perhaps different from those of us who look at it as a flight from death. I liked him very much, but I feel that my “chip” is not so much a chip as a reality.
    Anyway, this made me think of that and I am glad that others do see what I feel.Maybe we will have a chance to chat about it more in person, it’s too personal to put in print.

  2. Without doubt, he was the one with the chip, G, and not you. White South Africans are not forced to leave, but choose their exile, which is why we should shut up. It is incomparable to the flight of Jews from Germany.

  3. Have you ever read the novels of Romain Gary? They are often focused on the European Jewish community and he is very good. He’s an author who used to be much better known than he is now, but he deserves a revival. I’m not sure what it was about that excerpt that put him in my mind, but it just reminded me of him.

  4. I wish I knew more about my mother’s family’s life in prewar Berlin, but all of those records are long gone, and they are all dead. My great aunt was so traumatized by her concentration camp experiences that she said she never wanted to hear German spoken again, because of the things she had heard said in that language. I imagine they were part of a rich cultural life there, and I wish I could know and visit the places they inhabited.

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