Jewish Museum Berlin

On Friday, October 19th our class visited the Jewish Museum of Berlin with Prof. Wagner. This was my week to present on an extra reading, so I covered Susannah Reid’s review of the museum from 2001. I’ve attached Jewish Museum Presentation here for those of you who are curious about the review.

The creation of a Jewish Museum in Berlin was a subject of great tension in Berlin for well over a decade. To start with, people argued whether it should be simply added as a new Jewish Department to the existing Berlin Museum. This was, in fact, the original plan. The debate then continued with where the exhibit should be — in the Berlin Museum’s old Prussian style building, or in its own specially built home? At the same time, a council was formed to decide on the design of a new building, should the city decide to go that route. Several rounds of architecture competitions were held. And the question of the Holocaust remained — to what degree should the exhibition focus on the Holocaust? How much should the architecture reflect the Holocaust?

Aerial view.

Finally, the design by Daniel Liebeskind was chosen as the winning architectural plan. This was Liebeskind’s first built work – until then, he had been considered a theoretical, rather than a realistic, architect. Liebeskind was at the time a well known deconstructivist architect, and his Jewish Museum was a deconstructed Star of David. The building long and narrow, interspersed with 7 “voids” throughout. It has 3 “Axes”: the Axis of Exile, the Axis of the Holocaust, and the Axis of Continuity.

The Axis of Exile leads to the Garden of Exile. The Garden is truly impossible to describe with words. The best I can find are disorienting, shocking, and alien. It is within a square enclosed area, the floor uneven cobblestones. Within this area rise columns of concrete. Far above your head, out of these concrete columns, sprout the actual greens. The whole design is reminiscent of Paul Eisenmann’s Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe.

Inside the Garden of Exile.

The Axis of the Holocaust leads to the Holocaust Tower, which visitors are welcome to enter. The tower is one of the eeriest experiences I have ever had in my life. It seems infinitely tall and endlessly dark. There is almost no light, except for a tiny window at the very top. The shape of the tower and its all-concrete construction give you the feeling that it is an unnatural aberration.

Axis of Holocaust crossing the Axis of Exile.

Axis of the Holocaust features the names of each concentration camp.

Inside the Holocaust Tower.

Looking up the Holocaust Tower.

The Axis of Continuity leads to the actual museum exhibit. Interestingly, the museum is not a Holocaust museum – it covers all of Jewish history and culture in Berlin. Here, the architecture seems to be at odds with the exhibit, since Liebeskind was inspired by the Holocaust. Nonetheless, it is a remarkable exhibit, and one that all visitors to Berlin must go see!!

Heading up to the exhibit.

The end of the stairs — an example of though provoking architecture.

Old “Jew Street” signs from around Germany.

The Holocaust inspired architecture sometimes seems at odds with the exhibit, but is still amazing.

One of the highlights is the famous Memory Void, with the Shalekhet (Fallen Leaves) by Menashe Kadishman installation.

One of the most famous installations, for obvious reasons. The faces clatter as you walk on them, and the sound echoes all around.

Heading into the Memory Void.

Eventually, the Jewish Museum took over all of the new and the former Berlin Museum building.

How does this relate to our class discussions and readings?

It is an example of how places of memory in Berlin often become subjects of long discussions. Other examples we have discussed are the Topographie des Terror, which is based in the former Gestapo Headquarters, and the DDR’s Palace of the People, which was torn down to make room for the rebuilding of the Berlin Schloss.  Berliners still live with the consequences of the past, and issues of memory are personal for them. It is important that memory be correctly remembered. Especially projects like the Jewish Museum, with links to the Nazi past and the Holocaust, are important to get right. Berliners have the task of remembering in such a way that they never forget the past, but also live freely in the present, and prevent atrocities from occurring in the future.


2 responses to “Jewish Museum Berlin

    • Thank you for the comment! I was interested to learn about the Felix Nussbaum Haus, and upon some further research discovered that you are right, but that the Jewish Museum was his first commisioned work. I’m glad you’re enjoying my blog, and thanks for reading!

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