A very, very brief tour through Berlin’s Jewish history

This afternoon, I took a not-so-brief tour of Otto Weidt’s Workshop for the Blind. During the Second World War, Weidt used his brush- and broom-making workshop to rescue Jews who would otherwise be sent to concentration camps — and mostly deaf and blind Jews, who would have faced tough odds if deported. Weidt persuaded the authorities that their work was essential to the war effort, and when that failed, he bribed the authorities. His workshop, in the old Jewish quarter in Mitte, is now a museum.

I won’t go into too much detail on the workshop itself, but thought I’d share a couple of photos that shed slivers of light on the city’s Jewish history.

One of the most prominent monuments to Jews who died in the Holocaust comes in cobblestone-sized form, scattered throughout the city. Here’s an example of the Stolpersteine, or “stumbling stones,” from a sidewalk in Mitte:

These small brass plates are found in front of the buildings where Berlin’s Jews lived before they were deported. Here, for example, we find Stolpersteine to commemorate the Kozower family, ranging in age from one to 49. They were deported in 1943 to Theresienstadt, and from there to Auschwitz, where they died. The idea of the stones is that unlike centralized memorials, which can be visited once and then forgotten, they are repeatedly stumbled over by residents and visitors, a constant reminder of the Holocaust’s victims.

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Everyone’s playing psychologist, so I will too.

It’s kind of amusing to watch all these journalists and economists put on their psychologist hats and try to explain why hard-working, austerity-loving Germans are willing to put their taxpayer euros toward bailing out those lazy, irresponsible Greeks and Italians. I’ve seen all sorts of explanations. The most common one is economic, and it’s got a few different formulations: German businesses rely on Greek and Italian and Irish customers to buy their products; or Germany benefits most from the euro (because it essentially cheapens their exports for foreign purchasers) and won’t allow it to collapse; or the run on banks resulting from an out-of-control Greek default would cripple the entire European (and world) economy.

Another explanation, put forward by NPR’s Planet Money a few days ago, is historic. Germans, the theory goes, are so freaked out by the memory of World War II that they’ll do anything to be good European neighbors, even if it means giving hundreds of billions of hard-earned euros to those no-good southerners.

And in yesterday’s New York Times, we have a third type of explanation, which is purely cultural:

Germans struggle with a national envy. For over 200 years, they have been searching for a missing part of their soul: passion. They find it in the south and covet the loosey-goosey, sun-filled days of their free-wheeling Mediterranean neighbors. […]

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Göttingen: Stadt, die Wissen schafft

I’d be remiss not to say a few words about Göttingen, the lovely university town where I spent the past few days for a Fulbright orientation. The orientation itself was mostly a practical information overload (what kind of insurance to get, how to register my address with the authorities, etc.). But the city deserves a brief discussion. Why?

– Cause it was home to lots of important people. Two of them were the Brothers Grimm. We in America know them for their fairy tales, but they’re also credited with founding the field of Germanistik (the integrated study of German language, literature, and history), and they undertook to create the first German dictionary (they made it through the letter E). And they’re among the Göttingen Seven, who protested the authoritarian new king of Hannover (which ruled Göttingen) and were banished as a result. Cool dudes.

– Cause it’s pretty. I wish I had more photos to share with you, but here’s the famous Gänseliesel, whose statue in the town square all PhD recipients are supposed to kiss:

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