The weather is somewhat more promising today. Our first stop is Berlin’s Jewish Museum. After checking in our coats, umbrellas and large bags, we climb a steep flight of stairs (this is part of the Museum’s "concept", so I understand, but I am not certain what that concept is), and find ourselves face to face with "the Tree of Wishes". Visitors are asked to inscribe a wish on a coloured card shaped like a pomegranate and hang it on the tree. I can’t remember exactly what I wished for – no doubt something about Peace, either for the Jewish people or for the whole world. Not very original, I know – I am sure that there were many similar wishes hung on that tree.
The museum is very well laid out. It is a museum about, rather than for, Jews and Judaism, geared to explain to non-Jews the history of the Jews in Germany, our customs, way of life and so on. It is also designed to educate, and at the end of each section, there are interactive "tests" designed to discover whether or not the visitor has assimilated the lesson. The museum is also "tourist friendly". Exhibits are clearly labelled, in both German and English.
One thing becomes painfully obvious. The history of the Jews in Germany was never a bed of roses and the long tale of pogroms, discriminatory legislation and antisemitism clearly demonstrates that the seeds of Hitlerism lay far from dormant, long before the Nazi Party swept to power in 1933.
But it shouldn’t have taken a visit to the Jewish Museum to make that clear. On the bus ride to Berlin, Haggi, the administrative director of our choir, had already read us extracts from a book about the life of Moses Mendelssohn, the philosopher and grandfather of the composer. When he came to Berlin in the 18th century, Jews still required a special licence to enter the city.
After the visit to the Jewish Museum, our group splits up and I go, with the same friends as the day before, to visit the Reichstag building. Another rather loaded occasion, I would say. The building is surrounded by super-modern architecture, all steel and glass. But the main Reichstag building, which now houses the Bundestag, the German Parliament, was built in the late 19th century and above its western portico – from which visitors enter – is mounted the dedication "Dem Deutschen Volke" (To the German People). Somehow, the dedication, which is now claimed as a declaration of the democratic nature of German government, sends a chill down my spine.
One of the great tourist attractions of Berlin is the great glass and steel cupola on the Reichstag roof, from where one has a 360 degree view over Berlin. (See pictures!) As I understand it, the glass is supposed to symbolise transparency of government.
After the Reichstag, it is only a hop and a skip to the Brandenburg Gate, where enterprising Berliners have devised various money-making gimmicks. For example, just as painted lions ornamented the streets of Munich, it is painted bears that are scattered over Berlin and represent the city. In tribute, a man/woman/who knows, dressed in a bear costume, awaits visitors desirous of being photographed with a bear, against the backdrop of the Brandenburg Gate. Likewise a tall, monk-like figure. And then there is the buggy drawn by dogs…(Once again, pictures are attached…)
Having "done" the major sights of Berlin and been duly photographed, we just have time for a quick snack at Starbucks (yes, they’re to be found in Berlin too) on Unter den Linden, before heading back to the hotel to pick up our luggage for the drive to the airport.
At the airport, we discover that this very day, they have once again changed the regulations governing what you are (not) allowed to carry in your hand luggage. Whilst waiting in a very long line for the obligatory security checks, I open and close my suitcase several times, as I remember yet one more forbidden object in my hand luggage that must be transferred to my suitcase. It occurs to me that at Ben Gurion Airport, there are far fewer hassles and yet the feeling of personal security is much higher. Frankly, I trust the "nose" of our Israeli security personnel, who, without calling it by that name, have "passenger profiling" down to a fine art.
The actual flight is uneventful and we arrive back in Tel Aviv at an ungodly hour of the early morning. Were it not for the damage to my suitcase, which must be reported before leaving the terminal, I could go straight home and to sleep. Still – what’s a few minutes more?
So, have my feelings towards Germany changed, in the wake of our tour?
As I said before, I do not really hold the present generation responsible for what their grandparents did.
I do, however, feel that, while today’s generation of Germans is not to be held responsible for the unforgivable crimes (yes, I did say unforgivable) of their parents and grandparents, this generation – and the coming generations – are most definitely responsible for ensuring that history does not repeat itself. There is plenty of anti-Jewish feeling in Germany today – as, indeed, there is throughout Europe – and it is thinly disguised as anti-Zionism. I went to Germany, somewhat sceptical of the motives of our hosts. I left, convinced that their desire to atone was sincere, even, as I already mentioned, feeling slightly ashamed for being less than completely forgiving. But all in all, the impression I receive from what I read in the newspapers and see on TV, is that our hosts, and people who think like them, are still, sadly, in the minority and that those who hate us are daring, more and more, to raise their heads once again.
About which, in my next blog.