Thousands Of Israelis Now Call Germany's Capital Their Home Berlin's buzzing food scene, its fine cultural offerings and its real estate boom all have the imprint of the city's burgeoning Israeli community.
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Thousands Of Israelis Now Call Berlin Home And Make Their Cultural Mark

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Thousands Of Israelis Now Call Berlin Home And Make Their Cultural Mark

Thousands Of Israelis Now Call Berlin Home And Make Their Cultural Mark

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

For decades after the Holocaust, many Jewish people refuse to visit Germany. But, in recent years, thousands of young Israelis have moved to the German capital. And, as NPR's Daniel Estrin reports, they have left a big imprint on Berlin.

ITAY NOVIK: (Speaking Hebrew).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Hebrew).

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: I heard lots of Hebrew on my visit in Berlin - an Israeli real estate broker on the phone at a bakery, two Israeli hipsters chatting outside a bar. In this cafe, I meet Israeli food designer Itay Novik. He's sitting with a friend.

NOVIK: If somebody would tell me 10 years ago that, one day, I will live in Germany, I would speak German and I would think about applying for the German passport, I would say they are crazy.

ESTRIN: Much of his mother's family was killed in the Holocaust, and he never considered visiting Germany. But he's lived in Berlin for eight years. He fell in love with the city and with a German man. He says many Israelis who moved to Berlin are like him, gay or politically liberal or creative types. They feel at home in the avant-garde city.

NOVIK: It's a city where people don't interfere in your life. Israel is very, very conservative and conformitive (ph). People allow himself to ask very personal questions, also, the people that they don't actually know.

ESTRIN: About 10,000 Israelis have moved to Berlin in the last decade or so. Some young Israelis get new German or European passports, gaining the citizenship that was stripped from their grandparents during the Nazi era.

UNIDENTIFIED AUDIENCE: (Laughter).

ESTRIN: Israeli actors shared anecdotes about life in Berlin to a German audience in a recent play at an English-language theater.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: It amazes me how much I can buy at the supermarket for 20 euros compared to Israel. It's amazing.

ESTRIN: Many Israelis flocked to Berlin for the cheaper cost of living, stemming from years of underdevelopment after the fall of the Berlin Wall. It's controversial in Israel. One government minister accused Israeli emigres of ignoring the Holocaust to go live on the cheap. It's hard for Israelis in Berlin to escape history, as this actress recounts.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: My partner and I go to sex club, sometimes, and I mingle there with German people a lot. And when they find out I'm from Israel, they always say, it was such a bad thing with Hitler and the Holocaust. I don't feel anything bad towards the Jews. And I just think to myself, OK. Thank you for saying that right now.

UNIDENTIFIED AUDIENCE: (Laughter).

(CROSSTALK)

ESTRIN: The very fact that Israelis are living in Berlin makes some Germans very happy, like Alina Madleine Fleir (ph), whom I met at the theater.

ALINA MADLEINE FLEIR: It's a really positive thing. And I think that, for the younger Israelis, they don't have a strong connection to the past anymore.

ESTRIN: As Berlin continues to develop, Israelis are playing a role, like in the emerging gourmet culinary scene. Tel Aviv celebrity chef Meir Adoni opened a restaurant here a few months ago, one of several high-end Israeli restaurants in the city. The director of a historic Berlin theater is Israeli, as is Daniel Barenboim, the conductor of Berlin's state opera. And Israelis are part of a real estate rush that has driven up rents in the city.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAR PASSING)

NITZANA BRAUTMAN: Over there, there's a building.

ESTRIN: Nitzana Brautman (ph) is an Israeli real estate surveyor. She shows me a building bought by an Israeli investors group a few years ago. To drive down the soaring rental prices, some in Berlin are calling for restricting foreign investment or even expropriating foreign-owned apartments. But Israelis still find it worthwhile to invest here.

BRAUTMAN: The prices are going to double themselves within the next 10 years for sure.

ESTRIN: When her Israeli clients finalize on a Berlin apartment, she takes them to a notary. And outside the window is a memorial marking a spot where Nazis shipped Jews off to concentration camps.

BRAUTMAN: And we are just from the notary' office. We're looking down to this small memorial. And, often, I think, you see? We're back. And this is a good feeling.

ESTRIN: As comfortable as Israelis feel in the city, Brautman says not a day goes by when they're not reminded of what happened here.

Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Berlin.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHAPELIER FOU'S "HAHAHAHAHA?")

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