Between the Scheunenviertel and the Romanisches Café: Berlin as a Space of Hebrew and Yiddish Modernism

Shachar Pinsker, Assistant Professor of Hebrew Literature and Culture at the University of Michigan

 

My project explores the role of Berlin for the East-European writers who wrote in Hebrew and/or Yiddish and immigrated to the city in the first decades of the twentieth century, especially after World-War I and during the Weimar Republic. In this period, Berlin became a small but highly important site of literary activity in Hebrew and Yiddish, and yet most scholars consider the city as a “temporary asylum” for Hebrew and Yiddish writers, a mere “station” on their way to other locations. Although East-European Jewish Berlin was no more than an ephermal space, this “enclave, or “third space” was, I contend, rather crucial to the development of Hebrew and Yiddish modernist literature and culture; one which made a strong impact on these cultures for years to come in many other locations.

I try to elucidate the nature of Berlin as an “enclave” of Hebrew and Yiddish modernism by examining the kind of literary life that evolved in the city and compare it to other European cities (such as Vienna, Lvov, Warsaw, Odessa). I analyze Hebrew and Yiddish poetry and fiction written in Berlin and about Berlin and investigate the ways in which the urban space is experienced and represented in this writing. I examine the kind of interaction writers have had with German and Russian modernist movements in literature and art (symbolism, expressionism, Neue Sachlichkeit), and how this interaction influenced Hebrew and Yiddish modernism in years to come. Finally, I am looking at the urban space of the Berlin kaffeehäus as a specific site in which all these elements are present and come together.

 

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