At a panel discussion in conjunction with our travelling exhibition Voices of the Vigil at B'nai Israel Congregation last month, JHSGW Executive Director Laura Apelbaum met Bobbie Berger, who offered her an exciting new artifact for our collection. It is a commemorative photograph of the prisoner exchange on February 11, 1986, which is best known for the release of the dissident Natan Sharansky. After nine years in a Soviet prison, he walked over Glienicke Bridge from East to West Germany, and was brought to the U.S. Consulate in Frankfurt, and from there to Israel. He later became an official in the Israeli government and now serves as Chairman of the Executive of The Jewish Agency for Israel.
The U.S. diplomat William Bodde Jr. was Consul General in Frankfurt at the time of Sharansky’s release. Bodde was involved in the prisoner exchange and met Sharansky on his arrival in Frankfurt. Later, U.S. Ambassador Richard Berg gave him this framed commemorative picture of Glienicke Bridge and an inset photograph of Sharansky walking over the bridge as a thank-you gift for working on the exchange.
Bodde later gave the commemorative picture to his close friend, Bobbie Berger. Now, we are delighted to receive it for our collection and excited to learn more about the object and event.
Glienicke Bridge was the setting for other Cold War East-West prisoner exchanges including the one depicted in the much acclaimed movie, Bridge of Spies. It’s still in the theaters, so plan on a movie night to learn more about this topic. While shooting the movie, Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg had a prominent visitor: German chancellor Angela Merkel came to see them on the original set of Glienicke Bridge.
We're pleased to introduce our new curatorial team --
Christiane Bauer, Curator
Christiane’s most recent work experience was at the Sprengel Museum in Hanover, Germany where she worked as a provenance researcher. Prior to that, she worked at the Jewish Museum Berlin for seven years in a variety of curatorial and exhibition-related positions. She is fluent in German and English and has basic knowledge of both Hebrew and Yiddish.
Christiane holds a BA and MA in German History and Jewish Studies from the Free University of Berlin and is currently enrolled in a PhD program in American history at Ludwig Maximilians University Munich and University of Kassel, Germany. Her dissertation project focuses on post-war German American identity; for her research she spent 10 months traveling throughout the U.S. and conducted more than 60 oral history interviews.
Christiane recently moved to Washington, D.C. from Germany and is very excited and honored to join our team.
Get to know Christiane!
What excites you about your new position?
Building a new museum and working on a new exhibition that will shape the museum’s future scope and reputation is the most exciting project I could imagine myself working on as a curator. I’m very excited about this great opportunity and looking forward to its manifold challenges.
What told you the Jewish Historical Society was a good fit for you?
I felt very drawn towards the variety of assignments the position encompasses and which match perfectly with my background in curating exhibitions, working with archival and artifact collections, and conducting oral history interviews. I instantly liked the idea of working on an exhibition which emphasizes political history and the issue of social justice. It’s a great fit for D.C. and sets JHS apart from other museums.
What do you hope to learn here?
I’m excited to learn more about D.C.’s unique Jewish history and hope to do that through a lot of interaction with the community. Also, the intersection of Jewish history with the local and national civil rights movement is a fascinating topic which I can’t wait to dive into more.
What are you enjoying about living in Washington, D.C.?
I like the city’s international profile and its extensive cultural scene. D.C. seems to be the hub for many political, social, and cultural endeavors worldwide. A big draw for me personally is that I have access to some of the most prominent museums in the world and that there’s always an interesting event at an embassy, gallery, or institute to go to.
People might be intrigued by a German working on a PhD in American History. When did you discover your interest in this topic?
I discovered my interest in this topic when I attended a conference on German immigrants and their descendants in New York City. During the presentations it became apparent that not a lot of emphasis had been made to illustrate immigrants’ attempts to maintain a meaningful connection to their heritage after having settled in their new home. So I did an oral history interview study with second generation immigrants about their perception of being German-American, how they relate to their German heritage, and what stories, rituals, and traditions they keep up and transfer to the next generation. In that sense, I consider my PhD topic as part of American but also German History.
Martin Moeller, Senior Curatorial Consultant
Martin has served as the Senior Vice President/Senior Curator at the National Building Museum since 2001. We have known Martin since 2005, when he was instrumental in bringing our Jewish Washington Scrapbookexhibition to the Building Museum.
Martin has worked as an independent curator, writer, and editor and consulted for clients including the Museum of the City of New York, The Liberty Science Center in Philadelphia, and other museums and non-profit organizations. He has an extensive background in curating major exhibitions as well as in D.C. history and architecture.
Martin previously worked as the Executive Director of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture and the Executive Director of the Washington Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. He holds a MA and BA in Architecture from Tulane University.
Get to know Martin!
What about our work and plans for the new museum interests you?
First, I have been keenly interested in Jewish history and culture since my early teen years, when the family of my best friend at the time, who was Jewish, helped to take care of me after my mother died suddenly. I spent a lot of time at my friend’s house, where I enjoyed learning about Jewish traditions and rituals and drawing comparisons to my own family’s Catholic and Protestant roots. Since then, I have considered Judaism to be a part of my cultural heritage (though I do not practice any religion).
Second, I am very interested in Washington’s local history, as distinct from the national political developments that typically overshadow our city’s distinct identity. I think most visitors and many locals underestimate the breadth and richness of the city’s ethnic history. JHSGW has played a vital role in preserving and telling stories of Washington’s Jewish community, but its visibility has been limited to date. The new museum will bring greater prominence and reach not only to JHSGW, but also to those stories.
What impact do you expect Capitol Crossing to have on our neighborhood and the new museum?
It’s amazing how much damage even a relatively modest freeway cut such as that of the I-395 spur can do to the surrounding neighborhood. It isolated Union Station from the central business district, created pockets of abandonment and disinvestment, and then hampered redevelopment even during major building booms. Capitol Crossing will repair that urban wound. It has the potential to redefine perceptions of the city center while fostering new traffic patterns and potentially creating a new urban nexus. JHSGW's museum will obviously benefit from that. Indeed, if key retail attractions such as Eataly sign on as expected, JHSGW may have vast new audiences at its doorstep!
What do you enjoy about working as a museum curator in Washington, D.C.?
Like most curators, I suppose, I enjoy research, but I also greatly enjoy sharing what I have learned with the public. Washingtonians tend to be smart and culturally curious. They not only make great audiences for exhibitions and programs, but also engaged participants—they ask good questions and they talk to other people about what they have seen and learned. I love watching visitors move through an exhibition and seeing their faces light up when they discover something fascinating.