What screams I am lower class in Israel

Israel and Germany

Writing about Israelis in Berlin and describing them as a phenomenon turns out to be quite a difficult task for me, although or maybe because of the fact that I moved the center of my life to this city almost nine years ago. I have often read about us in one or the other newspaper without finding myself and the other Israelis I know here in what has been described. This topic seems to be about two things, two different aspects that are only partially related, even if both are under the title "Israelis in Berlin".

On the one hand, it is about the reality of life in Berlin Israelis: Why is Berlin so popular with some, and what is it that makes the city so fascinating for us? What are the motives for coming or even staying? How are Israelis doing in Berlin? What expectations do they come with, which are fulfilled, which are illusory? And last but not least: What role does history play? So this is about individual fates that are hardly possible to generalize. Whether my personal situation as an Israeli in Berlin is an advantage or an obstructive bias remains to be seen at this point.

On the other hand, it is about the German perception, about the phenomenon detached from individual fates that the German media call "Israelis in Berlin". To what extent is the media phenomenon covered by actual practice? And why is German interest and German curiosity so great?

Since this text appears in German and is addressed to a German readership, I would like to start with the latter in order to explain the more or less objective framework conditions before I come to the more subjective aspects of Israeli life. Finally, I would like to reflect on the respective meanings that are attached to the past in these two contexts.

"Israelis in Berlin" as a phenomenon

When we talk about Israelis in Berlin, we face a fundamental challenge: How big is this phenomenon? In practice it is very difficult to find out to what extent this phenomenon actually exists. No one knows exactly how many Israelis live in this city, and it can hardly be estimated. Local media have given different numbers in the past few years, often 20,000, 30,000 and recently in the "Berliner Zeitung" (January 17, 2015) even 50,000. One suspects that Jewish Israelis and non-Israeli Jews are being mixed into one crowd here - a problem I will discuss in more detail later. Such numbers are sometimes also given by Israelis, on the grounds that one hears Hebrew so often on Berlin streets. I can confirm that this is the case, but it is primarily due to tourists: Compared to the very tranquil size of the country and its (Hebrew-speaking, i.e. Jewish) population, Israel plays a relatively large role in Berlin's tourism industry. Almost 85,000 Israelis came to Berlin in 2013 alone (327,000 from all over the USA in the same period). But it's not about the tourists here, but about the existence of a real community of Israelis who live in Berlin. So what about these?

The closest source of informative information is the Israeli embassy. As Israeli citizens, as it is expressly stated in the passport, we are obliged to register at the Israeli embassy. But how high the proportion of those who do not comply with this obligation is also unclear; In any case, the consulate seems to take this with Mediterranean serenity and speaks of around 3,000 Israelis in Berlin, which substantially undermines the belief in the actual existence of a great phenomenon.

How do the German authorities see it? The Berlin-Brandenburg Statistics Office also denies all rumors of five-digit numbers and speaks of fewer than 4,000 people with Israeli nationality who are registered in Berlin. However, there are good reasons not to rely on these statistics: While the registration statistics are almost certainly used for other nationalities, the situation is different for Israelis. On the one hand, Israel is more liberal than Germany in terms of citizenship, so that having multiple nationalities is unproblematic for Israelis and a relatively widespread phenomenon. On the other hand, it is well known that many Israelis come from Europe, which enables them to acquire citizenship of European countries. Thanks to the European unification process, more and more Israelis have been making use of this option for about a decade and a half. They or their children can then claim the European freedom of movement in Germany and consequently do not register as Israelis, but as Poles, Czechs, Romanians or nationals of other countries. For some Israelis, Article 116, Paragraph 2 of the German Basic Law paves the way, because as descendants of former, persecuted Reich citizens, they can settle here as Germans. The statistical office counts a little more than 2,000 people to whom this applies. Could it be that the talk of "Israelis in Berlin" is more of a media than an actual phenomenon?

Not quite. Because when registering in Berlin, the newcomer must also give his previous address. This enables the authorities to determine how many residents - regardless of their nationality - stated that they had come from Israel when they first registered in Berlin. Of these, there were just over 9,000 in 2013. [1] In 2015 it could be almost 10,000, which means that we have ended up in the five-digit range, albeit with a delay. It should be noted, however, that this also includes Palestinians with Israeli citizenship. Again, it is impossible to know how high their share is, but my impression is that there are not a few who seek their happiness here. Nevertheless, as "Israelis in Berlin" they hardly have a say and are very rarely perceived as such.

But if the real Israelis in Berlin are a tiny minority among almost 3.5 million inhabitants, where does the idea, the term "Israelis in Berlin" come from?