For her whole life, Mor Kaplansky has listened to her grandmother, a famous documentarian, recount the glory days of Cafe Nagler, a supposedly thriving joint once owned by their family in Berlin before World War II caused them to resettle in Israel. So she decides to uncover the cafe’s true history, which is more elusive than expected. See facebook.com/Cafenagler.
Is there much nostalgia in Israel for pre-war Germany?
The question of nostalgia in Israel for pre-war Germany is understandably complex. I know that in my family, the Naglers never stopped longing for their own private lost-Germany and their beautiful cafe in Berlin. I think they held on to a sense of pride in the pre-war days when many German-Jews were esteemed and central figures in many areas.
Was it disappointing to learn that the cafe may not have been as grandiose as it was remembered to be?
It took a long and arduous research for me to accept that perhaps Cafe Nagler really wasn’t exactly the establishment I had always heard about. Once I accepted that, I wasn’t able to leave it at that. I had to find a way to portray our great family myth in all its glory.
Was it intimidating to make a documentary when your grandmother was such a renowned filmmaker?
Oh, it really was. Naomi was famous for making “important,” “serious” historical documentaries. I was under a lot of pressure with this legacy hovering over my head. Once I decided to go for a more creative telling of history, that pressure quadrupled. I really had no idea how my grandmother would see this liberty I took with the facts (for the sake of memory).
What did your grandmother think about the finished film?
I was very worried. But my grandmother, having probably one of the most liberal and progressive minds I know, was absolutely delighted. She was deeply moved, describing it as “a love letter from a granddaughter to her grandmother.”
She also said that a documentarist she always knew that history is made up of stories, passed down over the generations. To her, history and memory are forever intertwined. Today, I even think that she was more pleased with this wild depiction of our family history than she would have been had I actually found more in the archives and managed to create a more orthodox documentary about the café. To us, Café Nagler was always larger than life, and through our film, hopefully, it got to stay that way.
A few months ago, my grandmother passed away. Those last few years together, working side by side, spending all this time with her, were the most valuable gift Café Nagler could have given me. I can’t help but thinking that his entire escapade was just an elaborate excuse to spend more time with my grandmother.
What is your next project?
Right now I’m working on a fictional film, also based on one of my family’s stories. This was really the original project Naomi and me were working on before Café Nagler took us on a detour: the story of Naomi’s father. During WWII, Shimon spent four years as a Palestinian-Jewish-British war prisoner in Colditz, Germany. We have his letters and drawings from captivity. It is a unique and interesting story, I feel, especially the side of my grandmother, who grew up with a father who existed in letters alone. He left when she was a girl of 12 and returned to Palestine when she was already a woman of 17.
She says that after that, they were always good friends, but they no longer felt like father and daughter. In this fictional story, inspired by the actual events, I revisit questions of identity with regards to reality and fiction, but from a different perspective.