Babs in Deutschland: Germany kvells over diva

berlin | For the first time in her 47-year career, Barbra Streisand performed in Germany. Berliners loved her — and she reciprocated.

The event was a long time coming for the 65-year-old performer, who reportedly never wanted to set foot in the country responsible for the Holocaust. But standing onstage at the Nazi-era, open-air Waldbuehne Theater on June 30, Streisand told some 18,000 fans she was “very happy to be here in Berlin, so happy to be here in your country. It’s been many years.”

Streisand proceeded to wow the crowd with a two-hour show of jazz, movie and show tunes — including “People,” “Somewhere,” “Memories” and “The Way We Were” — that had the audience practically swooning.

On July 1, Streisand paid a private visit to the Jewish Museum in Berlin after it was closed for the night. She was accompanied by her husband, actor James Brolin, and two friends.

For weeks Berlin had been plastered with brown-and-gold posters of this proudly Jewish diva, whose paternal family hails from Austria.

Though she had never performed in Germany, Streisand introduced her film “Yentl” on a German TV show in 1984. This was her first tour on the European continent. When the tour was announced this spring, Germany at first was not on the list.

Her ultimate decision to sing here “shows her confidence,” said Stephan Kramer, general secretary of the Central Council of Jews in Germany.

“I am not saying it is another step to normality, but she has a lot of fans in Germany.”

The crowd at the nearly sold-out arena appeared to be in a jubilant mood. Members of the 58-piece orchestra joined the audience in pre-concert “waves,” lifting their violins and flutes into the air.

Streisand spoke of Germany’s cultural legacy, mentioning Beethoven, Brahms, Bach, Mendelssohn and Einstein.

Later, she offered a “prayer for tolerance, compassion and peace.”

Lackmann said he thought some non-Jews here were drawn to Streisand because they think of her as a survivor, “fighting and struggling and winning,” he said. But “for Jews in Germany and everywhere, she is a hero.”

The audience was studded with famous faces, including Israel’s outgoing ambassador to Germany, Shimon Stein, and Berlin’s mayor, Klaus Wowereit. Also present were members of the Berlin Jewish community — including former president Albert Meyer — who in the past had tried to bring the Jewish singer to perform here.

During the concert, Streisand answered four questions from audience members, singing “Happy Birthday” to someone named Thorsten and answering a profession of love from Sven with a Brooklynese brushoff: “Tawk to ya lata sometoime?”

Brolin also surprised her on stage with a giant dessert for their ninth wedding anniversary.

At the Jewish Museum, Streisand spent two hours in the permanent exhibit in a private tour given by program director Cilly Kugelmann. At one point she played a tune she had composed on a grand piano that had been shipped to South Africa when its owner fled Nazi Germany in 1936.

“Barbra Streisand saw the piano and heard the story about it, and then she sat down and played a little piece of music that she had composed herself,” said museum spokeswoman Eva Soderman. “The museum was empty, of course. I bet a lot of people would have liked to have heard that.”

Toby Axelrod

Toby Axelrod is JTA’s correspondent for Germany, Switzerland and Austria. A former assistant director of the American Jewish Committee’s Berlin office, she has also worked as staff writer and editor at the New York Jewish Week and published books on Holocaust history for teenagers.