Germany - Tracing Jewish Roots

Sophia's Travel AKA Jewish Travel Agency is proud to present our Germany - Tracing Jewish routes tour.

Germany and Israel launched in 2000 a joint touring program that focuses on major cities of Jewish heritage in each country. The first two-country trip was for travel agents and departed in May 2000 with an itinerary of five nights in Germany – in Frankfurt, Munich, Berlin and Stuttgart – and four in Jerusalem.

"We want to show how Germany has changed, and to show both the new Germany and its Jewish heritage. The younger generation has put a lot of effort into dealing with our history" – says Udo Grebe, general manager North America of the German National Tourist Office. 

Travelers interested in exploring Jewish Germany need not wait for these organized tours, however. We can put together individual itineraries of the major stops in Germany to get you started. Following are some highlights to add to custom Jewish tours of Germany. 

Berlin 

Home to Germany’s largest Jewish population, Berlin has moving memorials to its Jewish past and exhilarating projects for its future. 

The Jewish Museum, designed by architect Daniel Libeskind, is an eccentric zinc-clad building, the jagged form of which suggests a deconstructed Star of David or a thunderbolt. It has become a major landmark, drawing large crowds even though it has no exhibits yet. Its tall, narrow, near-dark empty spaces, called voids; slightly tilted walls and ceilings; and "garden" of columns are haunting symbols of alienation, disorientation and confusion. 

With its signature golden-grilled dome and Moorish towers, the New Synagogue in Berlin was burned and partially wrecked on Kristllnacht, when Nazi storm troopers destroyed Jewish businesses and synagogues. Allied bombers then completed the destruction in 1945. It has since been restored – not as a synagogue but as a memorial and museum of Jewish life in pre-Nazi Berlin called Centrum Judacium.

This district of Berlin, formerly the poor Jewish Quarter, is a newly fashionable area of galleries, bars and restaurants. Located at 79 Fasanenstrasse, Berlin’s Jewish Community Center has exhibits and information about Jewish events and an elegant kosher restaurant called Noah’s Ark. 

Topography of Terror, an open-air Holocaust exhibit of photographs, is installed in a wide, covered trench along Niederkirchner Strasse between Stressemann and Wilhelmstrasse. It sits near Potsdamer Platz, on land formerly occupied by Gestapo, and its infamous "house prison". 

A permanent museum is being erected on the site to document Gestapo history and the crimes commited during the Third Rech. 

Located at Southwest suburb of Berlin, the villa Wannsee and its gardens is where Adolph Eichmann and top Third Reich decision makers discussed the Final Solution, the Nazi plan to exterminate all 11 million European Jews. 

Sachsenhausen, a former Nazi concentration camp in Oranienburg, is situated about 200 miles nortwest of Berlin and features two reconstructed "Jewish Barracks" that re-create the camp’s living quarters and document the stories of many of the prisoners. 

Cologne 

The oldest Jewish community north of the Alps, Cologne has been home to Jews since Roman times, about 70AD. A 12-th century ritual bath, the Mikvah, is all that's left of the medieval Jewish Quarter in front of the City Hall. It lies 50 feet below Rathaus square, wit ha glass pyramid protecting its stone stairwell entrance. Roonstrasse Synagogue, one of the five pre-Nazi synagogues  in the area and the only one that was rebuilt, has a small exhibit on Cologne Jewry and a kosher restaurant located at 50 Roonstrasse. 

The Jewish cemetery on Koln Deutz, on the other side of the Rhine, is where Jews went when expelled in 1423.   

The Dom, Cologne's great Gothic Cathedral, features the stone-etched letter issued by the Archibishop in 1266 to protect the Jews; stained-glass windows of Elijah, Abraham, Isaac, Samuel, Solomon and Sheba, and a large stained glass Jesse Tree window showing Jews in the pointed hats they wore in the Middle Ages. 

Frankfurt  

The city of the famous German banking family, the Rothschilds, as well as philosopher Martin Buber, and eminent artists and statesmen, was home to the larges proportion of Jews for its size before the Holocaust. 

The Jewish Museum, housed in the former  Rothschild palace, is a treasury of Jewish artifacts that illuminate Jewish life from the 12th century. 

A large-scale model of the Judengasse (Jewish Alley), which encompassed virtually the entire 1,000 foot long ghetto that burned in 1711, recreates its194 buildings, the ghetto synagogue, and Rotschild House itself. It is located at 14-15 Untermainkai.  

Located at Battonstrasse and Karl-Schumacher-Strasse on the actual site of the old ghetto, the Judengassee Museum shelters the original foundations of the ghetto houses, a well and two mikvahs. Behind the museum is a desecrated Jewish cemetery, now enclosed by a high stone wall that lists the names, birth dates and places of death of Franhfurts' 11,000 Holocaust victims.  

The Westend Synagogue, with its stone arches and massive domed ceiling, was the only city synagogue to survive Kristallnacht. It is located at 30 Freiherr-vom-Stein-Strasse. 

Frankfurt's Jewish Community Center housed in a contemporary building at Westendstrasse and  Savignystrasse, features an iron menorah over the entrance and a huge, symbolically cracked tablet of the law rising from the ground. It is the center of the city's Jewish cultural activity and has an excellent kosher restaurant.  

Munich

This city has a lively contemporary  Jewish presence, but very little remains from its medieval heritage. 

Munich's Jewish Community Center, located at 27 Reichenbachstrasse, features a synagogue, community activities and a kosher restaurant.  Dachau, located 14 miles northwest of Munich and accessible by subway, was Hitler's first concentration camp. 

Travelers view a few of the original structures, including two barracks, the crematoria, gallows, gas chambers and a necropolis marked by Star of David and crosses. 

The Dachau Museum, in the camp's laundry, documents the rise of Nazism, the Final Solution and the horrors at Dachau. 

Other Towns  Mainz, Speyer and Worms, three historic Rhine towns, were medieval centers of Jewish scholarship. 

Mainz has a lovely synagogue and a Germany's only stained-glass windows designed by Marc Chagall, found in St. Stephen's Church. 

In Speyer, the 11th-century ghetto wall runs along the cobbled Judengasse. A Rhine-fed mikvah in a garden there is a best preserved ritual bath in Europe.  

Worms, a medieval center of Jewish culture, features its own picturesque Judengasse along the city's Wall; Europe's oldest Jewish emetery, featuring 2,000 tombstones; and the impeccably restored Rashi Synagogue, built in 1034, with its 17-th century Rashi Chapel and adjacent Rashi House, where Worms' city archives and Judaica collection are kept.  

Together with Arie Sommer from the State Israeli Tourist Office, the manager of the GNTO, New York, Udo Grebe, signed a letter to 3,600 rabbis in the USA presenting travel program. GNTO published for the first time "Germany for the Jewish Traveller" in this regard. 

The brochure for the consumers contains all necessary information for a visit to Germany and predominantly introduces the Jewish culture and Jewish institutions in Germany.  Germany is reaching out for Jewish visitors,  saying officially that Jews are welcome and will find it easy to travel there. 

For Jewish travelers, these sites add an interesting and emotional angle to a tour of Germany. Read our blog about Jewish Franconia

We provide tailor-made packages to fit various budgets for individuals or groups.