The Monument at Spandauer Strasse 68

Twenty years after the inauguration of Micha Ullman’s artwork Bibliothek (Library) on Bebelplatz square, the Berlin Senate commissioned the Israeli sculptor to design and install an additional “floor sculpture,” in close proximity to the spot where the building formerly known as Spandauer Strasse 68 had once stood. This had served as the Mendelssohn family’s first residence in Berlin and had been inhabited earlier by other Enlightenment luminaries such as Friedrich Nicolai and Gotthold Ephraim Lessing.

The Mendelssohn-Gesellschaft was instrumental in proposing and facilitating this “Mendelssohn House” project, which during its eight-year incubation phase was also known as the “House of Hope” and the “House of the Berlin Enlightenment.” On June 22nd, 2012, the 250th wedding anniversary of Moses and Fromet Mendelssohn, the project was officially introduced to the public at the city hall of Berlin, the Rotes Rathaus.

The artwork was completed in the summer of 2015 and the memorial was officially handed over to the public on June 14th, 2016. Besides Micha Ullman, the lineup of speakers at the event comprised Tim Renner, Berlin’s State Secretary for Cultural Affairs, Regula Lüscher, Director of Urban Development for the Senate of Berlin, and Hermann Simon, Founding Director of the foundation Neue Synagoge Berlin - Centrum Judaicum. Selected texts by Moses Mendelssohn were recited by the chairman of the Mendelssohn-Gesellschaft, André Schmitz, and by Marie von Mendelssohn, an 8th generation descendant of the Jewish philosopher. The "Three Cantors" sang Psalm texts in Hebrew and the horn ensemble “Trombonata” played compositions by Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy. Please click on the links to read the and to speech delivered by Micha Ullman in German look at photos of the event.

Micha Ullman’s design refers back to a building that was presumably constructed at Spandauer Strasse 68 in the 18th century (the house number changing to No. 33 in 1913), and which featured three levels plus a ground floor. Before Moses Mendelssohn and his wife Fromet moved in after their marriage in 1762, the house had been occupied at different times by the cousins Lessing and Christlob Mylius as well as by the publisher Friedrich Nicolai, all three being prominent authors associated with the Enlightenment movement. The Mendelssohn couple’s household at Spandauer Strasse 68 was a large one, including not only their children Brendel, Recha, Joseph, Jette, Abraham, and Nathan, but also other relatives as well as the children’s progressive live-in tutors, Hartwig Wessely, Moses Metz Ensheim, and Abraham Wolff.

During Moses Mendelssohn’s lifetime, the house was a popular forum for intercultural and interdenominational debate. It was frequented by young and old, by both progressively minded and more conservative members of the Jewish community, by Christian scholars and poetry-writing pastors’ daughters, by members of academia, and particularly by Lessing and Nicolai, who together with the master of the house made up the “Triumvirate of the Berlin Enlightenment.”
This same house also served as the first address of the Mendelssohn Bank. Moses himself had pursued textile transactions for his own account in the building while employed at a silk-making workshop in nearby Bischofsstrasse (in front of today’s city hall, the Rotes Rathaus). After his death, his wife was able to acquire the house at on Spandauer Strasse 68. His son Joseph, the bank’s founder, later sold it to the bankers of the Veit family, long-time friends of the Mendelssohns who had also married into the clan.

The only extant photo of the house was taken in 1886, shortly before it was demolished and its lot integrated into a new block of buildings to accommodate the boulevard known as Kaiser-Wilhelm-Strasse (today’s Karl-Liebknecht-Strasse). Visible on the photo is a two-meter-wide marble memorial plaque inscribed with the words, "In this house, Moses Mendelssohn lived and created immortal works; born 1729 in Dessau, died 1786 in Berlin.” The plaque, formerly shattered and since restored, is the only surviving relic of the house. Since 2014, it has been on view as part of the exhibit on the Mendelssohn family at the Dreifaltigkeitsfriedhof I cemetery near Hallesches Tor, having been loaned out by the Centrum Judaicum.

The complex of buildings that stood at this spot on Spandauer Strasse was destroyed during World War II and its ruins were later cleared away. In designing the memorial, the sculptor Ullman decided to take certain façade elements visible on the old photo of the house – twelve windows, a door and a memorial plaque – and to “project” them in real size onto the ground at the original location. The façade elements are set into the sidewalk and street with a silhouette-like effect and, depending on the viewer’s interpretation, either lead down into the earth or soar up from the ground into the sky.