Happy Moments for a Curator
Ilse Bing’s Photograph “New York—The Elevated and Me”

A self-portrait shot by Ilse Bing on her first trip to New York in 1936 has been imprinted on my mind’s eye for a very long time. The image was up for sale only twice in the last twenty years. On the first occasion, in 2009, a vintage print went at auction for the princely sum of 25,000.00 EUR. Given its rarity and great market value, I imagined at the time that the enchanting image was unlikely ever to become a part of our collection. For me, it came to be the very epitome of wishful thinking.

black white photograph of the skyline New York with Ilse Bing in specular reflection

Ilse Bing, “New York—The Elevated and Me,” print from 1988 of the original negative from 1936. Jewish Museum Berlin © Estate of Ilse Bing


The photograph depicts a station on the Elevated (subway line) in New York and the reflection in a small round mirror of the photographer with her Leica. The title “New York—The Elevated and Me” underscores the hybridity here of cityscape and self-portrait.

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Preparing for Marriage and Minding the Past

interior view of a barn, prepared for wedding guests

The wedding barn decorated with lights and flowers
© Chuck Fishman

With young adults spending an increasing number of years out of wedlock, preparation for marriage is ever more elaborate: Bachelor and bachelorette parties in North America are notorious for distracting brides- and grooms-to-be with alcohol and promiscuity. Celebrations of a similar nature are called stag and hen nights in England. In traditional German circles, friends and relatives of wedding couples smash dishes on so-called Polterabend (English: rowdy evening). In modern ones, the couple and their friends careen through city streets with flashy paraphernalia, printed t-shirts, and plastic trumpets.

Currently, a group of young Jews in the US are adapting an eastern European pre-marriage tradition, called tisch (Yiddish: table, short for chosson’s tisch, or groom’s table).  continue reading

In the Showcase

With a flip of a wrist, showcases turn arbitrary objects into works of art. Now, I can find out what it will do to a human being. I am sitting in a transparent case which is part of the current special exhibition “The Whole Truth… everything you always wanted to know about Jews.” The visitors pass by, and we observe each other. Many read the text on the wall, throw me a look and hurry away.

A woman behind glass, in the background visitors of the exhibition

Olga Mannheimer as a guest in the “Whole Truth” exhibition
© photo: Ernst Fesseler, Jewish Museum Berlin

Some stop, but keep a safe distance. I clear my throat, smile invitingly, and motion to the button on my blouse: “Ask me, I’m Jewish.” I qualified for this position, as I learned from a speech at the opening of the exhibition, by claiming to be able to tell the “whole truth” about Jews. Will anyone ask me to? The distance gradually shortens. One man wants to know what the object label on the case-window says – he does not have his reading-glasses with him. “Species: Diaspora Jew, Sub-species: Eastern European Jew, Variant: Banana Jew.” Thank you, says the man, and leaves quickly. “Banana Jew? Never heard of it,” says a woman. That was the term for Jews in Poland, I explain, who received citrus fruits and bananas from their relatives in the West.

Hesitantly, more people join the bystanders in front of my showcase. “Are you allowed to bring flowers to a seder?” “Can you sew a foreskin back on?”  continue reading