The Jewish Museum is one of the most striking examples of contemporay architecture in Berlin. The three buildings, two of which were designed by Libeskind, display two millennia of German-Jewish history.
A timeless monument to Jewish history and life in Germany, Daniel Libeskind's Berlin Jüdisches Museum is one of the world's undisputed museums and architectural gems. The museum is a stunning achievement in the architecture of cultural identity, a lasting expression of Jewish presence and dislocation and above all the attempt at integrating, physically and spiritually, the meaning of the Holocaust into the memory and consciousness of the city of Berlin.
Jewish Museum was designed by Daniel Libeskind
For Libeskind, who was born a few hundred kilometres from Berlin in Lodz/Poland and whose family was decimated during the Holocaust, the project presented to the Berlin Senate in 1988 – one year before the fall of the Berlin Wall – was a mission to acknowledge and incorporate the fractured course of German-Jewish history and the void of Jewish life in Berlin. The museum was meant above all as a new articulation of humanity in the history of Europe and of Berlin, an emblem of hope.
In Daniel Libeskind's words, "it thematises and integrates for the first time in post-war Germany the history of the Jews in Germany, the repercussions of the Holocaust and spiritual displacement. It is also just a museum with exhibits on the walls".
The first Jewish Museum in Berlin opened in 1933
The first Jewish Museum opened in Berlin in 1933 on Oranienburger Straße but its collections were confiscated by the Gestapo in 1938. Subsequently, a Jewish department was housed in the 1735 former Baroque courthouse, the Kollegienhaus, by Philipp Gerlach. The cornerstone for the Berlin Museum's extension was laid in 1992 following Libeskind's winning design for the planned Jewish department extension to the Berlin Museum, selected from amongst 165 competition entries in June 1989 after a process lasting over twenty years.
Deconstructivist-style building illustrates Jewish history in Germany
Libeskind's own name for the Jewish Museum project was 'Between the Lines'. Starting with the vision of two lines, the first straight broken and fragmented, the other tortuous but indefinitely continuous, he gave visual form to the elements of fragmentation coexisting with hope, continuity and connectivity, Jews and Germans, East and West, tradition and present.
Architectural features of the lightning-bolt shaped building
There are three underground passageways or axial routes connecting the new building with the older Baroque one. The first leads to the Stair of Continuity and to the museum itself and the permanent exhibition; the second to the Garden of Exile and Emigration while the third leads to the Holocaust Void which is the only dead end. The Void symbolises the absence of Berlin’s Jewish citizens.
The building is characterised by its shimmering zinc-clad walls, irregular lines and a star-shaped zig-zag ground design with light coming through asymmetric slits reminiscent of brutal stabs on the otherwise smooth façade of the monolithically shaped building. Seem from the air, the shape is that of a lightning-bolt. The window slit does in fact follow a precise matrix, the addresses of prominent German and Jewish citizens which Libeskind derived from a map of pre-war Berlin. Amongst the architectural feats is the ground layout which consists of spaces cut through an east-west axis which can only be crossed on passageways. The structural elements are represented by the concept of the void, something which cannot be exhibited. Five vertical voids run through the New Building. The walls are dark bare concrete, visible from the exhibition level as dark walls.
The latest addition to the Libeskind building is the spectacular Glass Courtyard completed in September 2007. Known as Sukkah from the Hebrew, meaning Tabernacle, the steel supports of the glass structure are arched branch-like formations referring to a social gathering. The museum, an independent Foundation under Public Law since 1999, is a venue for an ongoing cultural programme which includes exhibitions, symposiums, events and performances as well as an educational programme.
To make the most out of a visit it is well worth taking part in a guided tour. Enquire by email or telephone to book the appropriate guide in advance, especially with younger children.
The museum has an excellent kosher café-restaurant and provides wheelchair access.
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