Jewish Berlin dishes up great soap opera material. While financial scandals and power struggles dominate the official Jewish Community of Berlin, tensions abound at the social level as well. The Jewish Stammtisch, an informal social gathering that I attended when we first moved to Berlin in 2010, had a rift and split into two groups. One group meets at Terzo Mondo, a Greek restaurant in West Berlin’s “schicki-micki” Ku’damm neighborhood. The other group gathers at Seerose, a vegetarian restaurant in the more hip Kreuzberg district that borders on East Berlin.
I don’t detect much of a cultural difference between the two Stammtisch groups. Both are predominantly made up of middle-aged and older Jews from the diaspora who sit around sipping wine and shmoozing for a few hours once a month. Their evening get-togethers may not rock the city, but they do provide Berlin’s Jews with an opportunity to explore shared family and historical connections.
As I chatted with a woman from Argentina at Seerose last week, we discovered that we each had a parent who fled Hamburg in the late 1930s, another parent from Hessen, and we both have cousins who live right near each other in Israel. A sweet older gentleman who was sitting with us (also from Argentina, but born in Berlin in 1936 and once again a Berliner) kept exclaiming “die ganze mishpocha!” as we continued the conversation and learned of other similarities in our family backgrounds.
“Die ganze mishpocha” is a Yiddish phrase that refers to an entire family network of relatives and even friends. Lots of Jewish Berliners bemoan the cultural and political divide between the City’s East European Jews and the much smaller group of us with German Jewish roots. But Berlin is still a place where anyone with a German Jewish background may find others who are a part of their mishpocha. Even if you don’t meet anyone from your mishpocha, those who you do meet will have their own fascinating stories to tell over a glass of wine, whether in the posh west or trendy east part of the City.