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Berlin’s first Jewish girls’ school was built in Mitte in 1835. It was expanded in 1930 and moved into this newly-constructed building on Auguststrasse 11. The work of a prominent Jewish architect Alexander Beer (1873-1944), the school was built in the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) style which emphasised functional over aesthetic design. Beer would later perish at the hands of the National Socialist regime in Theresienstadt concentration camp. Comprising of 14 classrooms, a sports hall and a rooftop garden for the older children to enjoy and rest in, the school was one of the most modern in the city. As well as the standard school subjects, pupils here learned Hebrew and traditional forms of art.

In January 1933, the year Hitler’s National Socialist party came to power, there were approximately 160,000 Jews living in Berlin. In April of the same year, the ‘Law against the overcrowding of German schools and higher institutions’ was passed. This limited the number of Jewish children allowed in public schools, leading to overcrowding in their Jewish counterparts. Previously less than one quarter of Jewish children attended Jewish schools with the vast majority of children attending German public schools. Following the introduction of the law, the number of pupils studying in this particular school increased from just under 400 to over 1,000. At a time when restrictions more increasingly affecting Jewish lives, in October 1938 many Jewish families and children in Mitte were taken from their homes, driven to the Polish border and left there with nothing but the clothes they were wearing and little money. Without explanation many of the chairs in the classrooms of Auguststrasse 11 became empty. All Jewish schools were closed in 1942 as part of the National Socialist plan for the extermination of European Jews. This school was closed on June 30th 1942 with the majority of its pupils and teachers later deported to be murdered in death camps. The building was then used as a military hospital until the end of the war.

After the war and the division of Germany, this school lay in the heart of the Soviet sector and what would become East Berlin. In 1950 it was re-opened and named Polytechnische Oberschule "Bertolt-Brecht". Brecht was a Bavarian playwright who, having left Nazi Germany fearing persecution, lived in exile in the Unites States where he expressed his contempt for the events unfolding in Europe though plays and a film script. Branded a communist, Brecht left the Unites States and returned to Germany in 1947, spending his final years in East Berlin. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and due to a lack of students, the doors of the school closed for a final time in 1996.

Having been left to decay for ten years and after much discussion about the future of the building, the school was temporarily re-opened in the spring of 2006 for the 4th Berlin Biennale. In October that year, Hannah Arendt’s 100th birthday was marked here with an exhibition detailing her role in the rescue of Jewish children during the Nazi era. The building was officially returned to the Jewish Community in 2009 through the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany (Claims Conference). Since 1951, the Claims Conference has fought to return wealth and property to victims of the Holocaust. After effectively demonstrating how the building would both honor the past and become part of Berlin’s creative future, this newly refurbished space aims to combine the experience of history, art and gastronomy. 

 Information researched and provided courtesy of Brewer’s Berlin Tours. Images courtesy of Abraham Pisarek / akg images