Challah and Comfortable Shoes: A Year of Civil Service at the Jewish Museum Berlin

Janik Petersdorff in front of the W.M. Blumenthal Academy of the Jewish Museum Berlin

Going to work; Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Anne Richter

Finally finished with school and no idea what next? Perhaps a year abroad or right to university? Or a traineeship? I was asking myself these questions when I graduated high school. Given my interest in Berlin’s museums and cultural and social work, it made sense to gain experience in these fields during a year of civil service. The Jewish Museum Berlin wasn’t actually my first choice; I applied for and was invited to an interview at the Archäologisches Zentrum (Berlin State Archeology Center), which matched my particular interest in ancient Egyptian history. I was therefore extremely disappointed when I was declined. Additional offers were slow to materialize.

Desk with computer

Workplace in the academy; Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Janik Petersdorff

With my hope waning, I received two offers last July – the Jewish Museum Berlin among them. Since September 2015, I would arrive at the Academy every morning between 8-10 to join my three colleagues in an office within the Academy’s education department. My main task has been to prepare the Museum’s educational program. This includes everything from baking and craft to theater workshops as well as supporting the guides, as necessary, during the workshops. I’d be sure to double-check the database, however, before starting work, just to ensure no program had been overlooked or cancelled last minute.

The favorite activity by far is the baking workshop, “Shabbat. A Feast Day Every Week.” As the name suggests, the workshop relates to Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest, for which challah is baked. Students learn how to make this traditional braided bread. I’ve been responsible for getting ready the dough to be used.

Janik Petersdorff with challah bread

Baking in our workshop kitchen; Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Mirjam Beddig

Enough such workshops had already shown me how much can go awry while baking, but I was still taken by surprise the time the parchment paper caught fire. I grabbed the baking pan as quickly as I could and blew out the flames. Fortunately, none of the bread got burned, and the students were still able to enjoy it and go home satisfied.

These activities tend to take place before noon, so it’s usually not been till the afternoon that I can take care of office work or write a post for the Museum blog. In this capacity, I answer emails, file documents and take care of the smaller tasks for my colleagues in the department.

A pair of sneakers

Janik’s comfortable shoes; Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Janik Petersdorff

I racked up overtime at the beginning of my civil service year because preparing and implementing workshops required a lot of instruction. Fortunately, it was possible to later use these accrued hours to take part or even an entire day off. The job entails no shortage of moving around because the workshops take place in all parts of the Museum’s buildings. I can only recommend wearing comfortable shoes!

However, there have also been quieter moments when I could enjoy the opportunities afforded by spending a year of civil service at the Museum. I’ve been able to participate in its various educational programs and get to know the many facets of museum pedagogy. Moreover, I’ve been able to spend time in other departments, such as helping further investigate archival files dealing with compensation claims from victims of National Socialism. I’ve also collected the opinions of the museum’s visitors. There’s always been something new to learn!

Workshop room

Workshop room in the academy; Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Janik Petersdorff

My year of social service is coming to an end. I’ve learned a lot about work in the cultural field and take with me a wealth of tips and experience shared with me by the great people I’ve gotten to know. I’m really glad to have been able to spend my year of civil service at the Jewish Museum Berlin, though I remain committed to studying Egyptology. The civil service year has given me the chance to better understand what to expect of museum work.

Janik Petersdorff is looking forward to his life as a student in Egyptology beginning this fall.

Further information on our educational programs on

Further information about a year of civil service in Berlin and Brandenburg on (only in German).

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