We are often asked how Jews could come to Berlin, as if nothing has ever happened here... Indeed, for many people, visiting Germany and specifically Berlin is an odd notion. Some Jews have boycotted Germany for many years, some still do. Even though we live here, we can understand this rejection of Germany: After all, Jewish identity is based on memory and remembrance. Some survivors, albeit very few, are still among us - and in historical terms, the Holocaust took place just a short while ago.
On the other hand, Berlin was a focal point for Jewish modernity: Moses Mendelssohn and Jewish enlightenment, Abraham Geiger and the Reform movement, Azriel Hildesheimer and Modern Orthodoxy, to name a few examples. No attempt at comprehending our Jewish world in the 21st century could do without Berlin - on top of its great importance for German history and for understanding how Germany became what it is now.
From our personal perspective, visiting Berlin and even living in this city does not mean or suggest forgiveness (although many Germans like to misinterpret it this way). It is rather a personal journey for a better understanding of the nation that has caused so much suffering to our own. As history guides, we wish to make your journey a comprehensive and thoughtful experience.
It is an educational journey, yet not one that would necessarily result in accepting the German narrative. We are fully aware of the problematic aspects that go along with a Jewish visit to Berlin. And we think it is totally understandable, legitimate and justified to take issue with the country we - admittedly - live in. We do not see ourselves as “salesmen" of a vigorously re-branded Germany. Our goal as your hosts is to provide you with relevant insights and to help you form your own nuanced opinion. At the end of the day, it is up to you to pass judgement on Germany - for better or for worse.
What motivates people to make this journey to Berlin, differs from one person to another. Some of our guests have a personal link to Berlin as the place where they, their parents or grandparents were once born. For most Jews, Berlin is not a part of their individual biography, and yet we believe it should nevertheless be a part of our common story as Jews - not in spite of its history, but because of it.
If we look, just as an example, at Pearl Harbor and what it symbolizes for the American nation - namely, not merely an attack against the American individuals who happened to be there at the time, but against the American people - so is Berlin's crucial importance in the Holocaust not just the story of the Jews who were here at that time, but an important chapter in our story as Jews, an important piece in our Jewish heritage that makes us a people. This is, ultimately, the meaning of history: Our history is about what it means to us.
Indeed, the vast majority of our guests are not personally related to any of the Jews who were here in Berlin during the Holocaust. But we believe that it's not just about what happened to “them” - as Jews, it's about what happened to us.
Although Berlin’s meaning in our Jewish heritage is ultimately negative, our goal as guides is to make this journey a positive one, allowing us to appreciate, specifically in Berlin, our nation's survival. Berlin is an incredibly complicated place of memory, no doubt about that. But precisely because of that, we believe it can - and should - reinforce our faith in the future of the Jewish people.