No major city in Europe grew as quickly as Berlin in the late nineteenth century. By 1900 it was the third largest European city, capital of a great military and industrial power, and the center of an innovative modern culture. During the reign of Kaiser Wilhelm II (1888-1918), known as the Wilhelmine era, Berlin was transformed from a provincial Prussian backwater into a modern metropolis. The city dweller confronted the vitality and diversity of urban life in the form of crowds, new modes of transportation, and a barrage of images and texts from store displays, kiosks, newspapers, and posters. The art and literature of Berlin during these years reflect this dynamism.

Wilhelm II was personally interested in issues of art and culture, and he exerted his power to advance his nationalist agenda and conservative cultural tastes. Although an advocate of modern science and technology, Wilhelm II opposed the new artistic movements. Berlin's emergence as a significant capital of modernism must be viewed in the context of the Kaiser’s resistance to cultural change.

Jews moved to urban centers nearly a generation before most other Germans and played a major role in defining the modern metropolis. They were especially active in areas that defined the contemporary idea of urban life: journalism, department stores, theater, cabaret, and film. Jews also played a significant role as creators, promoters, and consumers of modern art, literature, and performance. There was nothing innately Jewish about the attraction to cultural modernism; rather, the Jewish contribution was in part a function of specific historical and sociological circumstances. Jews were still excluded from important areas of German public life, such as the imperial court, the military, the state bureaucracy, and, to a large degree, the universities. Denied access to many official venues, they turned to alternative public spheres. The men and women who were involved in shaping a cosmopolitan and modern culture belonged to the transitional generations of German Jewry: removed from the insular life of the traditional Jewish community, well-versed in German culture, yet not completely assimilated into German society.

Berlin Metropolis focuses on a number of Jewish modernists in Berlin. None of them solitary artists, they gathered together at galleries, cafés, theaters, and around avant-garde journals—Jews and Gentiles, Germans and non-Germans—furthering what was innovative in the arts and bringing it to a wider public. They opened up Berlin to international movements: French Impressionism, the Symbolism of the Norwegian Edvard Munch, French Cubism, and Italian Futurism. Jews and non-Jews were partners in this project, forming close professional and personal relationships. Together they helped define the agenda for twentieth-century culture.


Berlin Metropolis: Jews and the New Culture, 1890-1918 is sponsored by:

Significant support is provided by The Lucius N. Littauer Foundation; the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency; and the Consulate General of the Federal Republic of Germany; with additional funding from Arnhold & S. Bleichroeder, Inc.; Schroder & Co., Inc.; OFFITBANK; Deutsche Beteiligungs AG; the New York Council for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Humanities; Fanya Gottesfeld Heller; the Norman and Rosita Winston Foundation; the New York State Council on the Arts, a State Agency; and other generous donors.

Endowment support is provided by the Fine Arts Fund, established at The Jewish Museum by the National Endowment for the Arts and the generosity of private contributors. The catalogue is published with the aid of a publications fund established by the Dorot Foundation.

The audio guide is made possible by:

E. M. Lilien
Poster for Berliner Tageblatt,
ca. 1899
Color lithograph
48 x 34 5/8 in. (122 x 88 cm)
Kunstbibliothek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin-Preussischer Kulturbesitz