Mapping Urban Cafés and Modern Jewish Culture

Café Monopol

Itamar Ben Avi recalled that “you could read the best newspapers from Germany and all over the world” and meet “all of German Jewry, with its guests from Moscow, Warsaw, Odessa, Vilna, Lemberg, Prague…you merely had to order a cup of coffee with a single pastry on the side, and this enabled you to spend many hours there.” In Café Monopol, which was opposite the train station of Friedrichstraße, not far from the Scheunenviertel, Ben Avi claimed that “together with Aharon Hermoni…we created our own corner, our own table – the first Eretz Israeli corner,” where they “met every evening” and “edited Sokolow’s Ha-olam.” Ha-olam, the Hebrew counterpart of Die Welt—the official German-language organ of the Zionist Organization—was created in 1907 with Nahum Sokolow in charge, but in fact it was edited by Aharon Hermoni (Ginsburg) for a couple of years before it moved to Vilna, Odessa and other cities. Hermoni, who also spent time in Berlin as a student and journalist, wrote that during this time:   
Café Monopol was considered the Zionist center in Berlin. Every Zionist activist from Russia-Poland who passed through Berlin knew that in the café…he could meet at any time colleagues from east and west and friends from the Zionist congresses….In this café, we, the few Hebraists in Berlin, created a “Hebrew corner”… The language spoken on this table in the café was Hebrew, and this was a novelty, almost a miracle: The Berlin Zionists were visiting this table from to time, to hear how modern, cultured people converse in the language of the prophets. Even the gentile waiters – among them the head waiter, Eduard the magnificent – were welcoming us with “Shalom.”[i]
These memoirs all highlight the “Hebrew corner” and the Zionist activity at Café Monopol, but in fact this place in the heart of Berlin was a multilingual, transnational hub of communication and modern Jewish culture.
[i] Aharon Hermoni, Be-‘ikvot ha-bilu’im (Jerusalem: Reuven Mass, 1951), 151.

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