The saddest streets in the world: Shimon Attie projects a Jewish past on to present-day Berlin. Erwin Leiser, himself a child of the Thirties ghetto, explains

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The Independent Culture
NEARLY 300 years ago, the Scheunenviertel, the Jewish quarter of Berlin, lay outside the city gates, a district of barns and cattle sheds. The original street-names hark back to the days when soldiers were stationed there. Grenadierstrasse and Dragonerstrasse (Dragoon Street) were eventually renamed after the Second World War, when East Berlin became the capital of the German Democratic Republic. The streets of Sheunenviertel were assigned the names of anti-Fascist resistance fighters who never lived there. With the disappearance of those names, the quarter lost its identity.

The Scheunenviertel was both a religious centre for poor East European Jews and a coarse night-town of prostitution and criminality. The writer Joseph Roth described the quarter as 'a transit stop where one stays longer because one has to . . .' He called Hirtenstrasse 'the most Jewish of all Berlin's streets', adding that there wasn't a street in the world as sad. His depictions of the Scheunenviertel's destitution were lightened by descriptions of spontaneous theatre played in the courtyard of a filthy old inn.

The boycott of Jewish businesses on 1 April 1933 saw shop windows smeared with anti-Semitic slogans. Five days later the police and a detachment of SS men raided the Scheunenviertel and arrested many Jews, who were then hauled off to police headquarters on Alexanderplatz. The presence of Nazi patrols meant I never felt safe on my way to school. Gestapo spies were at our religious services.

On 28 October 1938, the National Socialists revoked the citizenship of 17,000 Jews, making them stateless, and brought them to the Polish border. The Poles denied them entry and they disappeared into no man's land. The following day, Nazis destroyed the little shul (synagogue) of the rabbi Abraham Mordechai Grynberg, head of Berlin's East European Jews. The SS men discovered he had died as they knocked on his door. His funeral marked the last public expression of Jewish life in the district.

In the summer of 1991, Shimon Attie, an American, came to Berlin to search for traces of Jewish culture. He felt the presence of all those who had disappeared from the Scheunenviertel, and was struck by the contrast between what he felt but couldn't see and what

he could see; not only the people but even

their houses had disappeared. He selected historic photographs taken in the Scheunenvier-

tel before the Second World War, converted them to slides and projected portions of them directly on to house fronts in the quarter, us-

ing the original buildings wherever possible. He then would take colour photographs of the projections. The world that existed before the Holocaust was thus recreated.

A photograph taken at 37 Mulackstrasse (top right) shows two little boys who probably died during the war; some graffiti, recently sprayed on the house, reads, 'What the war has spared . . .' Attie also uses a picture of the Biograph, Berlin's first cinema. He projects the image of the cinema on an empty house at 20 Joachimstrasse (above left). In this nocturnal picture, a former resident of the house can be seen on the left; a reading room is on the right. Attie thus seeks to give viewers an impression of how Jews lived in this part of Berlin.

Nothing has remained of these Jews, save old, yellowing photographs. Those who were not in the pictures remain faceless.

Taken from 'The Writing on the Wall: Projections in Berlin's Jewish Quarter' (Edition Braus, out now, pounds 26). An accompanying exhibition of photographs and installations is at the Zelda Cheatle Gallery, WC2 (071-836 0506) to 3 June.

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