Memorial plaque at the Mendelssohn bank’s first headquarters

In the summer of 2002, a discussion group on the history of Jägerstrasse was founded in Berlin at the initiative of the Mendelssohn-Gesellschaft under the name of “Gesprächskreis Geschichtsmeile Jägerstrasse.“ Its objective: To re-awaken public awareness of the almost forgotten history of the Mendelssohn family at this storied location.

Besides members of the Mendelssohn-Gesellschaft, the discussion group included neighboring tenants from the surrounding area, institutions with a historical interest in the subject, as well as private citizens committed to making a difference. The discussion group was later integrated into the Geschichtsforum Jägerstrasse, which in turn merged with the Mendelssohn-Gesellschaft in 2009.

It was very shortly after its formation that the discussion group broached the idea of installing a memorial plaque at Jägerstrasse 51, the location of the first headquarters of the Mendelssohn bank near Berlin’s Gendarmenmarkt square. The inscription for the plaque was finalized, a design competition was organized, and sponsors were solicited for the project. The entry by the Berlin-based sculptor Annelies Rudolph was selected as the winning design and she was commissioned with executing the plaque.

The plaque’s inscription

The right side of the plaque contains the following inscription on the history of the building and the banking house:

“Starting in 1815, this building housed the banking firm founded by the brothers Joseph and Abraham Mendelssohn. The Mendelssohn family lived at this address and worked here, and over many generations turned it into an inviting salon for artists and scholars. Established in 1795, the company became Berlin’s largest private bank in the 19th century. In 1938, Mendelssohn & Co. Bank was forced into liquidation by the Nazi regime.”

The left side of the plaque depicts the famous emblem of the Mendelssohns: a vigilant crane clutching a stone in one claw under the motto “ I keep watch.”

Explanation of the plaque’s design

Annelies Rudolph commented on her design as follows:

“Jägerstrasse lies – with only minor deviations – right along the East-West Axis. In spring, summer, and fall, the light of the sun hits the building’s façade from the right in the morning and from the left side in the afternoon. At Noon, the sun is directly in front of the façade. I decided to incorporate this sunlight pattern in my design.

Right in the middle of the Mendelssohn bank’s emblem we see the words ‘I keep watch.’ It’s a motto that refers to the ability to identify and prevent risks in a timely manner and to protect one’s home and family. This vigilance serves to protect the home, as a shield against danger. This is why I decided to give the memorial plaque a convex shape, like a shield.
The prevailing sunlight pattern perfectly accentuates the form and material (hand-burnished, bright bronze). The memorial plaque is intended to shine as beacon and has been designed to be a one-of-kind for the Mendelssohn House.

The plaque measures roughly 1.15 m x 0.80 m. The text is on the right side, while the emblem is on the left side of the plaque (and has a diameter of about 0.30 cm).

The unveiling

After being cast by the Hermann Noack foundry, the bronze plaque was affixed to the façade of Jägerstrasse 51 and ceremoniously unveiled on January 21st, 2004, the 200th anniversary of the founding of the Joseph & Abraham Mendelssohn banking house. Among the attendees were Berlin’s Senator for Cultural Affairs, Thomas Flierl, and the head of the Berlin Senate Chancellery, André Schmitz.