Martin Luther Memorial Church

Special Exhibition

Opening Times and Admission

April 23rd to July 18th, 2010.
Tuesday to Saturday, 14.00 to 17.00.
Closed on public holidays and on May 29th.
Admission free.

Travel Information

Riegerzeile 1a, 12105 Berlin
U 6 Westphalweg
Location map (Google)


view of a part of the special exhibition 'blood and spirit'

special exhibition 'blood and spirit', introducing Mendelssohn Bartholdy

“Blood and Spirit”—Bach, Mendelssohn, and their Music in the Third Reich

Felix Mendelssohn, whose 200th birthday we celebrated in 2009, has been called rightly the rediscoverer of Bach’s music. In 1829, at the age of 21, he presented Bach’s St. Matthew Passion at the Berlin Choral Society, the first time this piece had been performed since Bach’s death. In doing so, he returned Bach’s music—which had almost faded into obscurity with the exception of a few music circles of connoisseurs—to the centre of national attention. One hundred years later, this image of Mendelssohn was to change completely. While Bach was now praised as “the most German of all Germans”, with Hitler and Goebbels openly paying homage, “the Jew” Mendelssohn was presented as a dangerous “accident” of music history, who played a decisive role in rendering German music in the 19th century “degenerate”.

The treatment of these two composers is both a part of and a lesson about the self-feeding, farreaching, and in the end deadly rhetoric of the Third Reich, a rhetoric about “German superiority” and “the Jewish threat”. Some believed this rhetoric with ideological passion. More could connect to it, and wanted themselves to be understood, in a more nationalist-conservative fashion, as expressing a national pride and a long established—though so far largely dormant—anti-Semitism that had roots in the 19th century. Even more merely paid lip-service to the new ideology: to avoid a perceived danger to their careers, to gain permission for a publication, to be considered for an attractive position, or to avoid being replaced by “someone even worse” through a kind of “tightrope-walk of responsibilities”. There were some who spiked their superficial commitment with ambiguous irony. None of this made any difference. For all others, the image was of an ideology that grew more totalitarian every day, and which could only be denied at the risk of becoming a complete outsider. And the more colleagues and rivals had already committed themselves, the more it paid off to hold somewhat more radical views, instead of appearing as a merely luke-warm by-stander. When the ideology eventually became practice—in the Nuremberg Laws, the occupational bans, the disappropriation of Jewish people’s property, and the expulsions and deportations that were visible to everyone—one was already obligated by one’s own previous commitment to the new ideology; this made effective criticism, even if it did not carry any risk, impossible without self-contradiction.

One purpose of this exhibition is to recount this entanglement of musicology, of the research and promotion of Bach’s work, in the spreading of the Third Reich’s racial ideology.

Text: Jörg Hansen, Gerald Vogt. Translation: INTERTEXT Fremdsprachendienst, Erfurt. Reproduced with kind permission of Bachhaus Eisenach from: “BLOOD AND SPIRIT”—Misappropriation, Misuse, Obliteration: Bach, Mendelssohn, and their Music in the Third Reich. Exhibition catalogue, Eisenach, Bachhaus, May 1st, 2009—February 28th, 2010.

An exhibition of Bachhaus Eisenach. Curator: Jörg Hansen; collaboration: Gerald Vogt.
Special thanks to: Berliner Forum für Geschichte und Gegenwart e.V., Evangelische Kirchengemeinde Berlin-Mariendorf, STATTBAU Stadtentwicklungsgesellschaft mbH, Die Wille gGmbH.