restricted access 14. (Trans)National Spaces: Jewish Sites in Contemporary Germany
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321 Chapter 14 (Trans)National Spaces: Jewish Sites in Contemporary Germany Michael Meng In 1945, the physical markers of Jewishness in Germany were ruins—­ defiled synagogues, destroyed Jewish cemeteries, silent Jewish neighborhoods. Although a significant number of Jews rebuilt their lives in occupied and divided Germany, ruined spaces of prewar Jewish life were all that was left in most villages, towns, and cities. Jewish ruins have elicited a wide range of responses from Germans since 1945. Jewish sites have been protected, preserved, altered, restored, destroyed, or simply left alone; they have provoked anxiety, melancholia , nostalgia, and fascination. How Germans have dealt with Jewish sites has depended on how they have valued these embodiments of the past at specific moments in time and space. In the 1950s and 1960s, Germans on both sides of the Iron Curtain generally swept away many Jewish sites as worthless rubble. Yet, beginning in the late 1970s, some Germans began to see Jewish spaces as valuable relics of the past that should be protected. This interest in Jewish sites has continued over the past three decades and has become ever more transnational as people from various parts of the world—­ although mostly from the United States and Israel—­ have become similarly attracted to Germany ’s built Jewish heritage.1 In this chapter, I would like to explore the local, national, and transnational meanings that this rediscovery of the Jewish past in the built environment involves.2 I am interested in considering at one and the same time the national and transnational contexts of Germany’s recovery of Jewish sites. In some cities, especially post-­ 1989 Berlin, Germany’s ethnically diversifying society and enlarged Jewish population has led to novel conjurings of Jewishness amid the proliferation of new Jewish spaces and transnational engagements with the Jewish past. As people with different backgrounds, interests, and his- 322    Three-Way Street tories encounter Jewish spaces and reflect upon the Holocaust, Germany’s long-­ standing national framing of memory as a hermetic ethno-­ cultural German practice appears to be loosening, suggesting, more broadly, the emergence of cosmopolitan memories among some segments of society in Berlin.3 And yet such transnationalization of memory is rare: many Jewish spaces in Germany remain deeply entangled in the identifications, meanings, and discourses of the nation-­ state. As the example of Essen shows perhaps most vividly, Jewish spaces still largely function as sites to manage Germany’s violent history for the production of post-­ Nazi national identifications in the present. Valued and framed as symbolic markers of national recovery, highly public and institutionalized Jewish spaces underpin Germany’s postwar redemptive understanding of itself as a nation-­ state that has successfully developed into a tolerant , cosmopolitan polity.4 By looking at the two cities of Berlin and Essen, this chapter thus examines the interplay of transnational and national memories in the local built environment . The case of Essen unearths how memory and space remain anchored in local and national framings of the past, while some of Berlin’s newer and less institutional Jewish spaces point to the emergence of transnational memories. The chapter concludes by arguing that transnational memories emerge most visibly on the local level within efforts to transcend the hermetic identifications, meanings, and boundaries that Holocaust memory in Germany has now often come to reinforce. Put simply, this chapter attempts to capture the complexity of the contemporary moment defined by, on the one hand, the persistence of national framings of the past in Germany, and by, on the other hand, the diversification of the country’s memory landscape as different segments of society seek to invest the past with new meanings. Essen’s synagogue has had an unusual career over the past one hundred years. In 1913, the synagogue’s construction reflected the exuberance of Imperial Germany on the eve of the Great War: its majestic dome and monumental stone masonry captured Essen’s arrival as an industrial linchpin of Germany’s burgeoning global economy. “I am convinced,” exclaimed one local in the Essener Volkszeitung, “that the entirety of Essen is proud of this noble building, just as Essen’s citizenry is with the same right proud of the unprecedented development of our hometown, which now has experienced through this wonderful building such a splendid enhancement that so magnificently fits into the image of our city.”5 The synagogue was viewed as an integral part of Essen’s physical landscape and urban identity. Twenty-­ five years later, as Esseners stared at the burning building...


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Subject Headings

  • Jews -- Germany -- History.
  • Germany -- Emigration and immigration.
  • Jews, German -- Foreign countries.
  • Jews, German, in literature.
  • Germany -- Civilization -- Jewish influences.
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