“Was Goethe a Jew too?”

When you do a search of our library catalog for Goethe you could get this idea: 70 hits for works by or about the German poet (by contrast, Schiller only gets 16). And until a few years ago the impressive 1867 Cotta’schen edition of Goethe appeared in our permanent exhibition. Many people used to ask the visitor’s desk: “Was Goethe Jewish?” No, he wasn’t. But for many Jews he was the paragon of German culture, and his works symbolized membership in the German educated middle-class.

a bust of Goethe and books in the museum

Former Goethe installation in the permanent exhibition
© Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Marion Roßner

A few months ago, the Richard M. Meyer Foundation gave us more than 100 books by and about Richard M. Meyer himself. The son of a banker, art collector, and man of letters was a Goethe scholar. Meyer never acquired a proper professorship, but his 1895 biography of Goethe won awards and was published again and again – as a single volume, in multiple volumes, as a people’s edition and a reserved edition. According to the biography, Goethe saw “nationalities merely as transitional forms” (Volksausgabe [People’s Edition] 1913, p. 352). Statements like this illustrate the dilemma of German-Jewish assimilation during that period. If a Jewish reader of Goethe placed the poet’s cosmopolitanism in the foreground, he exposed himself to the accusation of misunderstanding the German essence of his writings. But when he explicitly recognized just this quality in Goethe’s language, his very right to have a say was contested.  continue reading


A Library Leaps Across the Street

We have been nudged, with some pizzazz, into a situation of good luck: at last we have an open-access library. After various construction delays, we finally had a date set to move. We were supposed to be transferring from our secluded rooms on the third floor of the Libeskind Building to the new Academy Building across the street from the museum, also built by Daniel Libeskind.

Book shelves in the back and a Reading Room sign in the front

Reading room of the library and the archive at the Academy of the Jewish Museum Berlin
© Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Mirjam Bitter

While some of us were directing the book-packers in the warehouse, others were confronting the question of how to set up this new reading room with open access. Visitors would at last be able to come and go without signing in. Missing shelf labels needed to be replaced with makeshift printouts from our classification system. Information about our opening hours had to be hung at the entrance. In addition, the transport needed to be organized of rare materials from the warehouse across the street to the new reading room. On top of all this, we could not lose track, in the midst of the moving boxes, of a set of packages containing an extensive new donation to our collection. When we finally opened our doors, we learned that there would be a press event:  continue reading