Press Release, Wed 13 Apr 2022
Starting on April 14, 2022, the Jewish Museum Berlin will be showing the exhibition “We dreamed of nothing but Enlightenment” – Moses Mendelssohn, created in partnership with the Mendelssohn-Gesellschaft. Moses Mendelssohn was a central figure of German-Jewish history and of European Jewry writ large. The exhibition presents Moses Mendelssohn as a groundbreaking thinker and portrays his era as a time of upheaval, when the proliferation of magazines and the emergence of coffeehouses gave rise to a new critical public debate. These debates covered many topics that concern us to this day, including equal rights for minorities, the role of religious traditions in modern life, and the impact of art. Mendelssohn also reflected on the practice of debate itself and the power relations between the speakers. His equal say in intellectual discourse contrasted sharply with his lived experience under the yoke of Frederick II’s restrictive and discriminatory policies toward Jews.
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“We are centering a Jewish perspective and showing how eighteenth-century Berlin became a place of encounter between different Jewish and non-Jewish viewpoints. The impact of the Jewish modernity that developed here extended nearly everywhere in Europe,” says Hetty Berg, Director of the Jewish Museum Berlin.
“The exhibition tells the story of Mendelssohn’s life in Berlin; his advocacy for the emancipation of the Jews; his translation of and commentary to the Torah, which made religious knowledge more accessible; and his friendships with the writer Gotthold Ephraim Lessing and the influential Berlin publisher Friedrich Nicolai. Together with these and other friends, both Christian and Jewish, Mendelssohn debated issues of identity, philosophy, and politics. For the exhibition, we are drawing upon not only the rich holdings of our collection, including many new acquisitions, but also some very special loans.”
Inka Bertz co-curated the exhibition with Thomas Lackmann, the Deputy Chair of the Mendelssohn-Gesellschaft. Inka Bertz stressed the exhibition’s implications for the politics of individuals and society:
“Moses Mendelssohn was solidly in the tradition of Jewish scholarship and lived strictly by Jewish law. He advocated for the separation of religion and state, arguing that religion was rooted in convictions that the state could not forcibly impose. In his view, the state must grant freedom of conscience and should not favor or disadvantage anyone based on their beliefs. He did not restrict this appeal to the sphere of religion. His model of a pluralistic society grounded in the rule of law can be fruitfully harnessed for contemporary discussions. Thus, we are drawing parallels to the present day.”
The exhibition will be accompanied by the release of an original graphic novel, Moishe: Six Anecdotes from the Life of Moses Mendelssohn, by the Dutch artist Typex, as well as a catalogue commissioned by the Mendelssohn-Gesellschaft.
An exhibition by the Jewish Museum Berlin in cooperation with the Mendelssohn-Gesellschaft, also based in Berlin.
The exhibition is supported by Lotto-Stiftung Berlin.