During the quarter century between 1780 and 1806, Berlin’s courtly and intellectual elites gathered in the homes of a few wealthy, cultivated Jewish women to discuss the events of the day. Princes, nobles, upwardly mobile writers, actors, and beautiful Jewish women flocked to the salons of Rahel Varnhagen, Henriette Herz, and Dorothea von Courland, creating both a new cultural institution and an example of social mixing unprecedented in the German past.
However advantageous and stimulating these salons were for their participants, they proved to be the product of a transitory convergence of social and cultural structures. Underground antisemitic gossip and the new nationalism unleashed by the upheavals in Prussia after 1806 quickly destroyed Jewish salon life in Berlin.
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Deborah Hertz is the Herman Wouk Chair in Modern Jewish Studies and a professor in the Department of History at UC San Diego. Hertz is the author of How Jews Became Germans: The History of Conversion and Assimilation in Berlin (2007) and Jewish High Society in Old Regime Berlin (1988). Both books have been translated into German. She has published over 30 articles in the field of German-Jewish history and the history of Jewish women. She is currently working on a new book with the working title “Visionaries, Lovers and Mothers: Radical Jewish Women from Conspiracy to Kibbutz” that covers women in anarchist, terrorist, socialist, Yiddishist, feminist and Zionist movements from New York City to Vilna to Odessa to the kibbutzim in Palestine.