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With Love from Fromet and Mo­ses Mendels­sohn­platz!

The Men­dels­sohns’ Marriage Ins­cribed in the Map of Berlin

Since 2013, the new plaza on Linden­strasse bet­ween the Jewish Mu­seum Berlin and our Aca­demy has borne an official name: Fromet-und-Moses-Mendels­sohn-Platz. After a pro­tracted deci­sion-making pro­cess, both Fromet Mendels­sohn, née Gugen­heim, and her hus­band Moses have been immor­talized on the map of Ber­lin. Ample rea­son to learn more about the excep­tional couple!

Street sign with the inscription: Fromet and Moses Mendelssohn Square

Street sign on the town square in front of the W. Michael Blumenthal Academy; Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Roman März

In the spring of 1761, when philo­sopher Moses Mendels­sohn met the mer­chant’s daugh­ter Fromet Gugen­heim du­ring a visit to Ham­burg, his fate was sealed: he de­clared his love for her in a gar­den pa­vilion, and “stole a few kisses from her lips.” He re­turned, besot­ted, to Berlin and wrote to his friend Gott­hold Eph­raim Lessing:

“I have com­mitted the folly of falling in love in my thir­tieth year. The wo­man I wish to marry has no assets, is nei­ther beautiful nor eru­dite; yet I am a love­sick beau, so smitten that I believe I could live with her happi­ly ever after.”

The two were wed in June 1762. That they married for love was high­ly un­usual: most marria­ges at the time were arranged by match­makers. “[O]ur corres­pon­dence can do without cere­mony,” Moses assured Fro­met on 15 May 1761, in the very first of his letters to his bride: “…our hearts will res­pond.”

“Before I met you, my love, soli­tude was my Gar­den of Eden. But it is intole­rable to me now.” Berlin, 24 October 1761

For over a year, Moses Mendels­sohn and Fromet Gugen­heim sent each other two letters a week. Several of Moses Men­delssohn’s so-called “letters to his bride” and Fro­met Mendelssohn’s “letters from a marriage” have survived, and are now held by the Music Depart­ment of the Staats­biblio­thek in Berlin. They were written in Judeo-German, in He­brew charac­ters, which was common at the time. The letters touch upon themes such as Moses Men­delssohn’s criti­cism of tradi­tional Jewish marriage contracts, and the legis­lation pertai­ning to Jews’ right to settle in Berlin – as a native of Dessau, Mendels­sohn had to apply for a per­mit to marry his Ham­burg-born bride in Berlin – as well as their fu­ture home in Ber­lin, the intellec­tual de­bates pursued by the love­struck couple and their friends, and – in a delight­ful letter dated 2 October 1761 – the de­fense of the wig.

“You have a too noble mind to even begin to ima­gine what weal­thy Ber­liners are like. If ever I am lucky enough to see you here be­fore me and, God willing, to live with you, you will have to avoid asso­ciating with our weal­thy neigh­bors, be­cause your charac­ter will never tole­rate their way of thinking.” Berlin, 7 July 1761

Embroidered Torah Curtain with Lion Crest, Roses and Hebrew Scripture

Torah Curtain; Jewish Mu­seum Ber­lin, accession KGT 97/1/0, pur­chased with funds pro­vided by Stiftung Deutsche Klassen­lotterie Berlin, photo: Roman März. More about the curtain on our website ...

Fromet and Moses Men­delssohn’s home in Berlin was known for its open­ness and lively intellec­tual exchange. The Berlin salons hosted in later years by Hen­riette Herz among others (a friend of Fromet’s dau­ghter Bren­del, later Doro­thea Schle­gel) were ins­pired on Fro­met Men­delssohn’s company, as Mendelssohn expert Thomas Lack­mann suggests.

Fro­met gave birth to ten children, four of whom died in infancy. Follow­ing her hus­band’s death in 1786, she left Berlin with her three young­est chil­dren and settled in Stre­litz. In 1800 she moved to her native city, Ham­burg, where she died in 1812. Inciden­tally, four of Moses and Fro­met’s chil­dren were bap­tized seve­ral years after their fa­ther’s death.

If you ever cross the pla­za outside the Aca­demy, let its name remind you of both philo­sophy and love, and of two extra­ordi­nary people who loved each other.

An open book showing the title page and a drawing of Socrates sitting in prison and gazing at a skull

Moses Mendels­sohn, Phaedon: Or, On the Immortality of the Soul, in three con­versa­tions, Berlin/Stettin: Friedrich Nicolai 1776; Jewish Museum Berlin, accession VII.5. Mende 275

Citation recommendation:

Monika Flores Martínez, Signe Rossbach (2013), With Love from Fromet and Mo­ses Mendels­sohn­platz!. The Men­dels­sohns’ Marriage Ins­cribed in the Map of Berlin.

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