Celebrating Hanukkah in Germany

Berlin, Brandenburg gate with chanukkah lights at christmas
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Christmas is a big deal in Germany. Christmas markets, Glühwein and nativity scenes abound. Christmas Eve services are attended by the religious and those simply in search of heavenly carols.

But all this Christmas mania is forgetting another important holiday, Hanukkah. This sacred Jewish holiday known as the "Festival of Lights" and is celebrated for eight nights by the lighting of the menorah and gift giving, visiting friends and traditional food and music.

Hanukkah in Germany is especially poignant because of the country's disastrous history of deportation, imprisonment, and execution. In 2019, Hanukkah will take place from December 22nd to December 30th. Frohes Chanukka!

How to Celebrate Hanukkah in Germany

Germany's Jewish community is still just a fraction of the size it was prior to World War II, but its rebirth shows a vibrancy and assertiveness. The nearly 200,000 Jewish people living in Germany actually make up the third largest Jewish population in Western Europe.

Many Israelis have made a pilgrimage back to Germany, but some of these new immigrants are fairly secular and not as religious. Despite their relatively small numbers and some hesitance to embrace the holiday, there is a growing effort to celebrate Hanukkah in Germany amid the Christmas madness. 

For newbies and visitors it can be difficult to find their community, but the basics of Hanukkah can be practiced anywhere. The dreidel, a traditional Hanukkah toy, actually stems from a German gambling game and can be found everywhere in the winter season. Latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly donuts) can be made at home, or bought in select Jewish bakeries and cafes.

And just because you are celebrating Hanukkah doesn't mean you are excluded from Germany's cultural phenomenon that is Christmas. It is estimated that up to 90 percent of the Jewish community in Germany celebrates both holiday and can affectionately be called "Weihnukka" combining Weihnachten and Chanukka.

Hanukkah Celebrations in German Cities

If you want to partake in the communal aspect of the holiday, there are opportunities to celebrate within a larger Jewish circle, particularly in big cities. For example, at least 50,000 of the country's Jews live in Berlin and the Jewish community is strongest in this international hub. Other major cities host smaller, but still vibrant, communities. Even in the smallest villages, nationwide groups can connect you with local groups.

Hanukkah in Berlin

To commemorate the holiday in Berlin, the largest Chanukka-Leuchter (menorah) in Europe is lit in front of the Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate) on the first night of Hanukkah. It stands at an impressive 10-meter (33-foot).

This event is not only a symbolic tribute to the Jewish community, but an act representing the vast change in perception of Judaism in Germany since WWII. There are a variety of society events, such as the Grand Hyatt Berlin's exclusive Hanukkah Ball.

The well-respected Jewish Museum in Berlin is also a great resource for finding local celebrations. In past years there has been a lighting of the Hanukkah candles in the Glass Courtyard accompanied by international musicians. Entry is free.

For a full-on Berlin Hanukkah Festival, Shtetl Neukölln celebrates Yiddish music and culture. It also includes workshops and concerts.

The website, chabad.org, can help you find further events in your area.

If you are looking for your favorite Jewish foods, try Bäckerei Kädtler. Family-run since 1935, its goods are certified kosher. Or get a perfect bagel and schmear at Fine Bagels, Mogg, or find more restaurants on Nosher.

Hanukkah in Frankfurt

The Jewish Museum in Frankfurt is also worth checking out for events and lectures. In Frankfurt, a menorah and Christmas tree are both presented and given equal prominence on the square in front of the Alte Oper.

Finding a local Jewish community in Germany

The Zentralrat der Juden in Deutschland (Central Council of Jews in Germany) is an excellent resource for finding out about Jewish life, celebrations and local organizations in Germany. Their helpful online map helps identify resources in your area.

Find your favorite kosher goods at specialty shops in most German cities (like in Munich). Look for Koscher (the German word for "Kosher") menus and for acceptable dishes.