After the exhibition is before the exhibition

A wall full of questions at the exhibition "The whole truth" © Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Thomas Valentin Harb

A wall full of questions at the exhibition “The whole truth”
© Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Thomas Valentin Harb

The special exhibition entitled “The whole truth… everything you always wanted to know about Jews” ended more than a year ago. Besides the animated discussions and empty display cases, there are thousands of pink post-it notes left over. Visitors stuck their questions, commentary, and impressions on a concrete wall after they went through the exhibition and left the museum. A kind of analog “facebook” arose out of these contributions, above and beyond the contents of the exhibition itself. Visitors commented on each others’ notes and raised new questions: on the history of Jews in Germany, on the conflict in the Middle East, on the relationship between Christianity and Judaism, and – again and again – on the subject of circumcision. At this point, the Jewish Museum Berlin had already decided to dedicate not just another blog post to the contentious topic (as part of the series “Question of the month”), but an entire new exhibition.

We recall:  continue reading


Peddlers with Caftans, Sidelocks – and Umbrellas: Images of Jews around 1900

In Germany, you cannot rely on the weather being consistently sunny, even in the summertime. In the fall at the latest – dare we think of it already? – we will need to shake open our umbrellas again. Axel Stähler (comparative literature, University of Kent), has shown that the umbrella was once considered a Jewish attribute. He recently offered to share with Blogerim his research on the umbrella’s discursive significance in Wilhelminian Germany.

Dr. Stähler, how did you spot the “Jewish umbrella”?

A dark-skinned man sits with an umbrella

Mbwapwa Jumbo from “Briefe aus Neu-Neuland”, Schlemiel 1.1 (November 1903), p. 2

I was first struck by an umbrella in the hands of the “Big Chief of Uganda,” Mbwapwa Jumbo, a fictitious reporter in the Jewish satirical magazine Schlemiel, who acted as a correspondent from a new Jewish colony in Africa. In fact, in 1903, the British government had proposed to Theodor Herzl to commit land to Jewish settlers in the British Protectorate of East Africa. This proposal, which came to be known as the Uganda Plan, was vehemently disputed in the Zionist movement, and rejected in 1905. No concerted colonial Jewish settlement of Uganda ever took place, although individual Jewish immigrants had built homes there earlier.

In nine letters published over the course of the magazine’s brief lifespan, from 1903 to 1907, the chatty and naïvely amicable Mbwapwa tells of the first Jewish colonists – Orthodox Mizrachi – and of what became of them: in funny prose spotted with Anglicisms, and increasingly also Yiddishisms, he describes how he and his countrymen converted to Judaism. He relates the murder of a reformist rabbi who had been smuggled into the country, and the reformers’ ensuing punitive military expedition. He reports on the colony’s political and cultural trials and tribulations, and, finally, on the emergence of the Zionist movement—since Uganda was not, after all, the Promised Land.  continue reading


Art, Trash, and One-Way Realism

A Conversation with Andrei Krioukov

Crushed Coca-cola cans with Hebrew and Arabic letters

Artistically-treated Coca-cola cans
© Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Jens Ziehe

As a contribution to our art vending machine, Andrei Krioukov treated and crushed Coca-Cola cans with Hebrew and Arabic labels. I met him and his wife Rita at their art school on Immanuelkirchstraße in Berlin. This is where Andrei teaches international students, who both study and take their state-recognized exams with him.

In our discussion Andrei talks about his fascination with the design of the famous cans and explains the elements of both trash and art they represent.

Christiane Bauer: Andrei, what fascinates you about the Coca-Cola can?

Andrei Krioukov: These cans are typical of our lives today. You can find them everywhere, but hardly anyone notices them. For me, the discrepancy between art and trash is an exciting subject: if a can is lying on the street, it’s trash. But if I pick it up and contemplate it, and I ponder what I can do with it, it turns into art.
An artist from the 19th century could paint garlic, an onion, or a pitcher of water. Today our lives are full of Coca-Cola cans.

The pitcher appeared in still life paintings as an object from everyday life. What significance does the can have? Do you see a can of Coke as a disposable article or as a modern cultural artifact?   continue reading