Explaining Kosher to a Customs Officer

Menorah on a decorated table

© Michaela Conen

Year after year, Jews in Germany ask themselves the same question: where are they going to get their Hanukkah paraphernalia? Santa Clauses smile at us from every shop window, the shelves are overflowing with a huge variety of delicacies wrapped up in glitzy packaging, and of course there are Advent calendars everywhere. Even the parcels we receive long before the day itself are decorated for Christmas – but amidst this splendor, Hanukkah products are nowhere to be found. The ‘usual suspects,’ the stores with Jewish literature or kosher groceries, always have paper plates and decorations with the same designs as five years ago. I can almost hear the children say, “oh no, not the same stuff again!” So, what to do?   continue reading

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lace plate-mats

Two doilies from the Plesch family household, from the first half of the 20th century, given by Janos and Melanie Plesch in memory of Prof. Dr. Peter H. Plesch.

You can often find a number of Jewish Museum employees in the lunchtime crowd at the canteen of the European Patent Office at Hallesches Tor in Berlin. The food there is excellent; the noise, on the other hand, is excessive: rattling silverware, clattering dishes, and the voices of diners whirring together into one great drone.

In the dining room of the Berliner doctor family Plesch such a hubbub would have been unthinkable. Their secret: clatter-doilies.  continue reading

James Bond on Nazi Germany

January will mark the 80th anniversary of the National Socialists’ seizure of power, and popular interest in the history of the era that followed is as vivid as ever: citation from a page of HHhH34-year-old Laurent Binet’s HHhH, winner of the prestigious Goncourt prize, reconstructs Operation Anthropoid, the skewed but ultimately successful mission of Czech resistance fighters to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich, National Socialist Obergruppenführer, Protector of Bohemia and Moravia, and head of the German secret services. (HHhH is an acronym for “Himmlers Hirn heißt Heydrich,” – Himmler’s brain is Heydrich – which is how Heydrich’s function was described in Nazi circles.)  continue reading