Moves to Establish a Research Library for Jewish Art

Seven books and booklets

Gray literature held by the library, Gross Family Collection © Jewish Museum Berlin, Photo: Lea Weik

The library of the Jewish Museum Berlin is growing day by day. Since early 2014, this has been particularly noticeable in the Jewish visual and applied arts section, which currently stocks about 10,000 media objects (books, journals, non-book media, etc.). As part of the framework of a project funded by the DFG (German Research Foundation), which I have been working on for the past year, our team has had the opportunity to make essential acquisitions and to close existing gaps in this area. Further expansion is planned—and will take us another big step towards our goal of establishing a research library for Jewish art and cultural history.

Before the first Jewish visual and applied arts publications arrived at the library, there were many tasks to be performed: first and foremost, to settle the question,  continue reading


Searching for the New Germans

A Visit to the Academy’s Reading Room

Why do we keep books like Muslime im säkularen Rechtsstaat (Muslims in Secular Rule of Law), Diaspora Identities, or z.B. 650 Jahre Rixdorf (E.g. 650 Years of Rixdorf) at the Jewish Museum? Answering this question is the task of the Academy Programs on Migration and Diversity. How to find these books, however, falls to the library.

A reading room visitor gets advice from the librarian at the information desk.

Reading room of the Jewish Museum Berlin’s library
© Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Mirjam Bitter

Imagine that you want to learn about social structures, clubs, and immigrant biographies in Berlin, particularly in Kreuzberg, to which you yourself moved from Hesse two years ago. After visiting the museum one fine Sunday afternoon, you take a look at the new Academy, where, you heard, a friend of yours recently attended an event about the ‘new Germans.’ The Academy is closed on the weekend, but a museum host informs you that it has a library. You return on Monday and ask in the reading room about Turks in Kreuzberg. The librarian would love just to tell you, “second shelf on the left, all the way to the back – what you’re looking for is right there.” Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple.  continue reading


“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