Jewish Museum, Judenplatz & Stadttempel
Touring Vienna's Jewish Heritage - Part I
If you are interested in the Jewish History of Austria, Vienna is a good place to have a closer look at the marks that centuries of Jewish settlement left in the country′s capital. After an almost complete extinction of the Jewish life in Austria in the course of discrimination, persecution and ultimately the Holocaust, some 20,000 Jews mostly from Eastern European countries now populate Vienna, re-viving the Jewish aspect of the city.
The Jewish community is concentrated around the Leopoldstadt, the second district, which has tradition as first a ghetto and later a Jewish district. For tourists, however, the Jewish Museums in the Dorotheergasse and at the Judenplatz Square in the first district provide more rewarding destinations. You can buy a combined ticket for the two museums and a guided tour to what is probably Vienna′s best-protected building, the main synagogue or Stadttempel.
The Jüdisches Museum in the Palais Eskeles was founded in 1896, which makes it the oldest museum of its kind in the World. Unsurprisingly, though, it was closed by the Nazis in 1938 and not re-opened until 1989 - so the claim for the record age is somewhat dubious. The exhibition is arranged on four floors. On the ground floor, there is a hall that can be used as a lecture hall that has several items of Judaica on display.
Quotes from Jewish scriptures and literature are written on the walls and leaflets inform the unknowing visitor about the religious purpose of the items. It is quite obvious that the curators did not want to build a Holocaust Museum, but a museum of the past and present Jewish life in Vienna.
Coffee & Culture in Vienna
Around the corner, you can find a bookshop, an overloaded marble-covered entrance hall that looks somewhat out of place, and the main attraction of the museum: The Café Teitelbaum. There is a fair chance that you will spot my humble self here, especially on a Sunday.
Due to the general lack of atmosphere that a traditional café would have, the average tourist keen on the "Viennese Café Experience" is not attracted by the Teitelbaum. However, due to the many international visitors of the museum, it has a distinct international clientele - and an excellent array of newspapers and magazines (in German). Assuming that you will be more interested in the exhibition, let′s go back to the actual museum for now, though.
On the first floor, the traditional array of a museum′s collection is dissolved: A large is used for temporary exhibitions that are usually very well done. They are normally dedicated to a significant person, era or event in some sort of connection with the Jewish life of Austria. This can be a Jewish artist and his time, some aspect of the Holocaust period or elements from contemporary Jewish life in Vienna.
Temporary & Permanent Exhibitions
Moving one floor up, you get to the next hall filled with holograms that display items, symbols or situations from crucial moments or aspects of Jewish life in Vienna. One of them even moves when you walk by - pretty cool. This hall sometimes holds temporary exhibitions or parts of them, too.
The holograms display things as diverse as the Loos Haus, which was ordered by a Jewish entrepreneur, or the "Bummler", the head of a walking stick that Nationalist fraternities use, owned by Theodor Herzl. On the fourth floor, you finally get to the collection′s cabinet. Here you can see that only a small fraction of the over-all Judaica that the museum possesses is actually on display.
Many of the items are burnt or darkened by smoke. This happed in the course of destroying the first museum and the curators decided to leave the marks as they are. One very intriguing part of the collection consists of "Antisemitica", pieces of anti-Semitic art and craft given to the museum. Otherwise, the cabinet left me with rather little excitement.
Continue with "Jewish Vienna - Part II"
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Vienna by District
District Overview - 1st (Innere Stadt) - 2nd (Leopoldstadt) - 3rd (Landstraße) - 4th (Wieden) - 5th (Margareten)- 6th (Mariahilf) - 7th (Neubau) - 8th (Josefstadt) - 9th (Alsergrund) - 10th (Favoriten) - 11th (Simmering) - 12th (Meidling) - 13th (Hietzing) - 14th (Penzing) - 15th (Fünfhaus) - 16th (Ottakring) - 17th (Hernals) - 18th (Währing) - 19th (Döbling) - 20th (Brigittenau) - 21st (Floridsdorf) - 22nd (Donaustadt) - 23rd (Liesing) - Ringstraße - Surroundings