In terms of inhabitants, Berlin Weißensee is one of Berlin’s smallest districts. It also tends to get outshone a bit by some of its more “flashy” neighboring districts like Mitte or Prenzlauer Berg. They are just simply more “in” than Weißensee – which isn’t hard to be, as some of the younger residents here like to put it. But Weißensee has a place of interest that, though rather secluded and somewhat well-hidden like the rest of the district itself, offers a fascinating insight into Berlin’s long history: Europe’s largest Jewish cemetery.
Founded in 1880, some 115,000 Berliners have been laid to rest here. Hugo Licht, the architect, designed the cemetery’s buildings and the 120 burial fields using stark geometric forms like triangles, rectangles and trapezoids. The cemetery’s walkways and intersections were designed as a form of counterpoint to this, using circular forms and squares. In its entirety, the cemetery covers over 42 acres of land.
As a sad reminder of the barbaric Nazi past, a small circular plot awaits the visitor right at the cemetery’s entrance. It is a memorial for the murdered Jews of the Holocaust and is filled with inscribed slabs of stone representing the concentration camps in which six million Jews were murdered.
When moving on the cemetery proper, it soon becomes clear that most of the graves are simple and unadorned and usually of equal height. This of course signifies our equality in death. There are, however, several imposing family mausoleums here as well, the construction of these being a common practice in the Wilhelminian era.
The grave’s function in the Jewish religion has a special significance. One rests here until the day of resurrection arrives, it is unthinkable that a grave could be moved or altered to make room for further graves, for instance. That is why gravestones are never removed and plots never “reused”, the deceased having the right to remain here forever. That is also why many of the older Jewish cemeteries often appear to be so incredibly cramped for space. With the passage of time, less and less room is available.
Many famous Berliners are buried here. The painter Lesser Ury, the Kempinsky family, the publisher Samuel Fischer, all have found their final resting places here. And to the right of the entrance is also a row of honor for many famous Jewish personalities who were active in the areas of culture and science.
Some of these mausoleums are particularly impressive architecturally. Walter Gropius’s cubist sepulcher for Albert Mendel, for instance, is particularly interesting. The family plot for the Panowsky family done by Ludwig Hoffmann is also very impressive. The Michaelis crypt, an open structure with 16 Corinthian columns, is one of the most beautiful structures in the cemetery and really an amazing sight.
The Jewish Cemetery in Weißensee is a very beautiful sight which is certainly worth visiting when visiting Berlin. It might be a bit off the beaten path, but the paths here are well worth taking.
You can easily get to the cemetery by taking the tram from Bahnhof Alexanderplatz to Albertinenplatz. From there to the entrance is just a short ten minute walk. Closed on Saturdays and Jewish Holidays.
Der Jüdischer Friedhof Weißensee